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PostPosted: Tue Apr 04, 2017 1:18 pm 
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The road to Firooz Kooh

Duet, by first-time Iranian director Navid Danesh, delivers nothing but unease. Hamed (Morteza Farshbaf) used to be with Sepideh (Negar Javaherian), when they were music students; the way he ended it wasn't nice. He runs into her at a nice music store, where she's getting some DVDs made by his friend Kaveh (Kaveh Kateb) and they linger to talk. Both, they learn, are now married. This encounter starts a crack in the delicate network that holds together the nice bourgeois lives of two couples. Sepideh's building engineer husband Massoud (Ali Bosaffa without the wig he wore for Farhadi's The Past) finds Sepideh "strange" when she comes back to the car from this meeting, where he's been waiting. She begs off going to a funeral or burial celebration, which we do attend.

Later it emerges this is a contemporary, married, a close friend, and an inexplicable suicide. This of course introduces another note my disquieting mystery.

The next day, Massoud finds a recording his wife has salted away and goes sleuthing to the store, and by pretending to be interested in Hamed's new record of a duet, learns he's married to Minoo (Hedieh Tehrani), gets the phone number, and goes to the music school where she teaches to meet her husband. Instead he sort of collapses talking to Minoo, in an all-white moderne reception room. In the background the toddler musicians play a screechy version of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" and then Anna Magdalena Bach's "Bouree." He stares at a big photograph of tree-specked snowy mountains she says is "the road to Firooz Kooh." It's the objective correlative for the emotional aridity all around. Nothing here is uncalculated, and more's the pity. Note the power failure, allowing for interior chiaroscuros, and the leaky plumbing that progressively disfigures Sepideh and Messoud's apartment.

And so then anyway there's an accumulation of other duets besides the musical one: Sepideh and Hamed; then Sepideh and Massoud; then Massoud and Minoo, and so on. These long, drawn-out, laconic conversations may seem even more uncomfortable to the western viewer because of the hijabs that make the women look like stylish nuns; and the hushed voices in which everybody speaks ramp up the muted, somehow maddening tension. Nobody is telling the truth. But is there truth to tell? The surface is attractive. Danesh seems more attuned to exquisite visuals than his colleague Farhadi and his use of ambient sound by Amir Hossein Ghasemi and music by Peyman Yazdanian is subtle and precise. One looks forward to the car trips: the interiors of vehicles are so beautifully shot by dp Hossein Jafarian. The score would work for a low-keyed thriller - or a requiem.

But underneath much less is discernible. What keeps building up is not plot lines or revelations, but a growing body of things unsaid that don't quite lead anywhere. Certainly Sepideh is mad at Hamed for the way he ended things, but now everybody seems to be pissed off at everybody else for no discernible reason. Everyone's off on the road to Firooz Kooh. We, who can't get there, need more clues from Danesh's tight-lipped screenplay and more payoff from his scenes. But there is promise in the film's polish and intensity.

Duet, 103 mins., debuted at (Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival Nov. 2016, Iran theatrical release 25 Mar. 2017. Screened for this review as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival.


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