The Deserted Station (2002), an Iranian masterpiece by director Alireza Raissian, stayed at the peripheries of transnational cinema even after critical and audience success. Leslie Camhi of the Village Voice (amongst other critics) praised its delicate direction and Leila Hatami’s performance as the film’s lead. But even with credits to Abbas Kiarostami for his original screenplay, the film went widely unnoticed, quietly bought by Netflix to be stashed away in the seldom-visited corners of its foreign movies category. But it remains true to the nature of Iranian cinema is not only its art-house exhibition but also aesthetic composition. It uniquely acknowledges its past cinematic influences and also the contemporary and mutational nature of Iranian national character.
The film begins with a long shot of a car driving into a sunrise. Mahmood the driver looks out the window to picturesque vistas of the Semnan hillsides, the camera ignoring for over 6 minutes our actual protagonist, his wife, dreaming in a calm sleep. After their car breaks down, the couple seeks help, coming across a seemingly barren and dry labyrinth occupied by women, children, and Faizollah, a do-it-all pragmatist that helps Mahmood attempt to fix his broken vehicle. Once the film starts to focus on the wife, a complex system of dynamics is introduced. Parallels are drawn between her, a pregnant goat, and a pregnant woman, that begin to reveal our protagonist’s evolving psychological state through visual cinematic techniques rather than dialogue.
A plethora of analyses can be extrapolated from the wife’s interaction with the characters in the labyrinth. But the most significant perhaps is how feminine identity and its spectatorship is challenged more progressively here than its western counterparts. Contemporary critics of Iranian culture tend to focus on the extreme conservative values that have come to negatively and internationally characterize Iran. The Deserted Station challenges these assumptions in a syntax appropriately reflecting the progressive and powerful sentiment in the nation for the realization of an equal Iranian feminine identity. As demonstrated in the revolutionary and controversial works of Jafar Panahi, Iranian cinema has come to invent a novel cinematic language that uniquely symbolizes a profound freedom of expression. This film stands as a relatively modern example of how Iranian national cinema is not only a socially constructive tool but one that is shifting the landscape of traditional cinematic storytelling.
The Deserted Station is rich with themes and intense examinations of the human psyche. It is riddled with questions as intellectually challenging as the best films that western industries have to offer. It is an astounding achievement that connects the early Iranian new wave cinema of the ’90s to the contemporary burgeoning market of Iranian films. Abstract, beautiful, and subtle, it is a film that sparks imagination and an intense desire to discover one of the most profoundly influential nations in the Middle East.
I invite you to explore more amazing Middle Eastern cinema at the New Middle East Cinema Film Festival hosted by the University of Pennsylvania from October 27-30 at the International House.
University of Pennsylvania
BSc Arts degree with distinction