Journey of the Gray Men

Journey of the gray men

Journey of the Gray Men or Safar-e Mardan-e Khakestari by Amir Shahab Razavian is a road movie of three old folk musicians with nostalgic memories to Birjand

Call for the Journey

Bahman, an old Dutar player, arrives in Tehran to find and convince his friends, Esfandiar, puppet player, and Javad, Tombak player, to go on a journey to Birjand, where they all initially met each other. Esfandiar is now a ticket seller in one of theatre houses in Lalehzar Street and Javad, who has developed a heart problem, lives and works in a greenhouse. Getting on an old Chevrolet Station Wagon, they set out on a road journey from Tehran to Birjand after forty years, where they used to perform Persian Marionette to earn money.

Journey of the gray men
Nostalgic Chevrolet Station Wagon

Persian Marionette

In their first attempt, they stop at a mixed school in a mountainous village to perform what they had missed all these years.  The story of the marionette is a love story of a young man named Farrokh Khan who is in love with a beautiful girl, Sarvenaz, but sheriff of the town has his eyes on her, too. Farrokh sets on a journey to Mount Qaf, a legendary mountain in the popular mythology of the Middle East, to fetch Simurgh’s feather, as a power tool, to win Sarvenaz back.

Safar-e Mardan-e Khakestari
Performing Marionette at School
Safar-e Mardan-e Khakestari 2001
Coffee House at Caspian Sea

Stopping at a beach coffee house, they began to smoke hookah and drink tea. Despite their insistence, the owner did not remember them after such a long time. Those who are in debt to him are important to remember, not the others. They left the coffee house disappointed to spend the night on Caspian Sea beach, next to fire where music is in the air. Esfandiar remembers good old day in Golestan Palace, a puppet show place for public, which was closed down after Islamic Revolution in 1979.

Secretive Wedding Picture

The next day, Javad found an unknown wedding picture at a back of sun visor, but put it back. Later on Javad was taken to hospital as result of too much smoking. The doctor warned him to quit; however, he made some excused to continue.

Safar-e Mardan-e Khakestari Film 2001
Wedding Picture behind the Sun Visor

Going down the desert part of Khorasan province, they gave a lift to a group of singers and dancers heading for a wedding ceremony in Fakhr-e Davud village. Turning their car into wedding car, they happily joined the Persian wedding. But, it didn’t last long. After realizing the father of the bride forced her into this marriage, Esfandiar made Bahman and Javad leave it in fury.

Fakhr-e Davud Castle
Fakhr-e Davud Castle
Journey of the Gray Men film
Agha Ghasem Garden

Unrequited Love Story of Ghasem

They unanimously decided to spend the night at Agha Ghasem Garden like old time. Ghasem has been living alone in this garden for nearly half a century. Fifty years ago, when he was doing his military service, he fell in love with a girl. Since he was a simple private, he asked his superintendent to step forward as an experienced man to ask the girl’s father for marriage. But, the superintendent himself fell for the girl and married the girl. Ever since, he has been living alone in this garden where she and her children pay a visit in summer for pleasure. (See Colors of Memories)

Football Fans & Afghan Refugee

The journey went on as the next day, they got into a fight with group of young football fans and badly beaten. The movie stops at the film crew ran toward them to break the fight. On the way to Birjand, they stopped to pick up an old Afghan man heading to desert. The Afghan man has left his country 30 years ago to live in Iran. The Afghans live in camp where law of jungles rule. It has started since 1979. The police checkpoint turned out to be the last destination for Afghan as he was arrested for smuggling marbles!

Journey of the Gray Men
Afghan Refugee
Journey of the Gray Men
Football Fans

Javad who kept resisting telling the death of his father finally gave in. The cause of his death was the death of his closest friend, a goat! Getting to Birjand at night, they spent the night at Bahman’s house where his widowed sister, Rabe’e also lives.

Love Confession

In Birjand, Esfandiar opened his chest out and confessed his love for Bahman’s sister, Rabe’e. Esfandiar has kept the wedding picture of Rabe’e behind the sun visor, a lost love.

Journey of the Gray Men
Rabe’e Youth
Journey of the Gray Men
Rabe’e Elderly
Journey of the Gray Men 2001
Rabe’e at Marionette Show
Journey of the Gray Men 2001
Esfandiar as Peeping Tom

Performing marionette in Birjand finally came true. However, Esfandiar changed the love story of Farrokh and Sarvenaz into an unrequited love, as Rabe’e was watching the show in the first row. Unfortunately, Javad died of heart problem and buried in Birjand, his favorite place. Bahman asked Esfandiar to stay in Birjand, but he left to keep his journey on the road. The film ends Amir Shahab Razavian, his father and mother in the same car in Hamedan. Six months later, his real father passed away. In fact, Journey of the Gray Men is the story of his father and his friend.

Amir Shahab Razavian Director

Journey of the Gray Men Film Review

As the first feature film of Amir Shahab Razavian Journey of the Gray Men has a lot to say. Inspired by the story of his deceased father, the young Iranian director focuses mainly on Persian Marionette, lost love and travel.

Persian Marionette

Razavian reminds us how short our cultural memory has become. Once popular puppet show, with its folklore tales and music, is now forgotten for good due to Iranian Revolution as Esfandiar straightforwardly reveals. The mobile trio puppeteers are the inheritors of Gusans, creative and performing artists dating back to Parthian Empire (247 BC – 224 AD). Gusans were the artists narrating the epic tales along with folklore music and performance on street for public. The Persian marionette’s tales reflect similar aspects in a new form. Entertaining as it used to be and it is, the marionette emphasizes the importance of art and its vital role connecting people with their history. Those disconnected with history are subject to forgetfulness and loss of memories. As Javad brilliantly put, “one who does not think about the past, never care about memories”. 

In Pursuit of Persian Marionette, Lost Love & Memory

Lost Love Memory

Digging the past memories was the main propeller of these three old artists to travel to Birjand, where they befriended first. Birjand is home of sweet and bitter past for them, particularly for Esfandiar who left it heartbroken. Fallen in love with Bahman’s sister, Rabe’e in the narrow alleys of historical part of Birjand, Esfandiar was unable to confess his love for her out of “respectability”, an irrational deep-rooted eastern element of ethics. As a result, he has remained bachelor all his life sticking just to a wedding picture as a memento. Moreover, Ghasem heart breaking tale of love and regret, although short, underlines similar theme which extensively elaborated in his next film, Colors of Memory.  The characters are modern odyssey wandering the land for the lost loves.

Go down memory lane is manifested in real road trip. Travelling from Tehran, visiting scenic landscapes of Hyrcanian Forest, passing by the old Caravanserais, ruins castles and spectacular deserts, all in all make Journey of the Gray Men a genuine road movie.

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Here One Does Not Die

Here One Does Not Die poster

Here One Does Not Die tells a story of private solider who must watch oil pipes on Iran-Iraq borderline alone for a month.

The film opens with the longshot of horseshoe road with two men on a buzzing motorcycle noise heading to the watch post. While telling a film story, Ghasem (Reza Behbudi) take Ashkan (Houman Seyyedi) to a one-room shelter. Ghasem is worried about his wife’ mental health and thinks the baby heals the pain. The observation post is in a remote mountainous area empty of any humans but some wolves. Ashkan has to keep his eyes open for smugglers who hit the pipe at night.

Here one does not die film
Horseshoe Road

One fine day, he sees a girl, Rojin, down below on the green covered flat land carrying stuff to a stony house. Quickly gets on his motorcycle, Ashkan approaches her and asks about her business there. The girl (Bahar Katozi) replies that she is just living in here. As a part of duty, he reports about her presence in the area to Ghasem.

Rojan (a Kurdish name means “shining”) keeps visiting Ashkan day and night to bring some food and have small chitchat. One day Ashkan tries to pay her a visit to her home, but Rojin rebuffs him angrily and asks him to leave. Ashkan becomes suspicious that she might be in cahoots with smugglers. His worry grows when she calls him by his first name over having some food the next day. Ashkan never remembers telling his name to Rojin. Slowly and slowly Ashkan’s state of mind begins to break.

Here One Does Not Die 2016
Ashkan is sharing his secret with Ghasem (Reza Behbudi)

He loses the date and day of the week. On an occasion when Ghasem is back to bring some food and water for him, Ghasem tells that his wife needs to see a doctor because he saw her playing with the dolls.  However, Ashkan refuses his idea and advises him not to do.

The doctors will bother her. They will do something that she forgets everything…I have been with them [Doctors]……I have seen something and somebodies that seemingly did not exist. Only I see them.  

One night he sees some men near the oil pipe through the binoculars. He reports to Ghasem and when Ghasem checks the situation he couldn’t find any evidence. Smoking heavily day in and day out, Ashkan cannot trust his mind anymore.  Through a series of flashback, we see Ashkan on a wheelchair of what appears to be an asylum. To stay focused and get rids of voices he hears, he tries to remember his events of his life by talking loudly to himself. However, it appears futile because Rojin keeps coming back to his loading. In a daring act, after seeing a man near the oil line, he gets into the house of Rojin with his finger on the trigger. Rojin begs him to leave the house immediately before they show up. As he was asking about the men, a door opens and a man enters. Ashkan pulls the trigger and shoots the man dead. Together, they dig a hole and bury the corpse. In an internal monologue, we hear that Ashkan tells himself that “This woman is unreal. I should not get close to women.  

Here One Does Not Die 2016 Iran Cinema
Ashkan (Houman Seyyedi) & Rojin (Bahar Katozi)

Waking up next day on his bed, he sees the dead man he buried smoking cigarette alive before his eyes, only injured in left ear. He warns him not meddle with his business because he has no intention of killing a private solider. After giving a pocket of cigarette, he tries to threaten Ashkan by choking him with his hands. He then leaves quickly. That night Ashkan saw a group of men show up at Rojin house and carry a dead body wrapped in rug. He picks a shovel and quickly runs to the burial place of dead man. To his surprise, there was no corpse. He goes on the verge of collapse and passes out on open space when Ghasem comes announcing that his watch is over. While carrying Ashkan on his back, he begins to narrate a story;

There was a fast sleeper boy who sleeps when the situation comes up. Once he slept at 20:00 and woke up at 12:00 noon tomorrow. He said that he went boating. On the other day, he slept for two entire days. He went boating again. But, one night we he fell asleep, instead of boating, the water pulled him down. He went down like a stone. A week passed. Three months passed. Ten years passed. The boy realized that he is asleep. He tried to scream, but he couldn’t. One day while his mother was playing with his hair, he saw that his boy was staring at her with open eyes. He woke up, but he felt like a boy who is trapped in the body of a grown-up man.

Ghasem carries Ashkan on his back to the motorcycle. Here One Does Not Die ends with the same horseshoe road with two of them on the motorcycle.  

Kondori’s Comment on Film

Hossein Kondori in his news conference at Fajr Film Festival said that at the begging the name of the film was “Zero Point Border”, but later changed into “Here One Does Not Die”. He introduced his film as a psychic drama and believed that from the second half of the film “an analytical point of view dominates the film” which make the audience to think more about the film. Regarding the cinematography of the film, Kondori states that Here One Does Not Die is the first film in Iran which was shot with Blackmagic URSA camera. He added that from the begging he had Houman Seyyedi as the main role, but he faced difficulty to convince him for the role. However, at the end, he talked him into it.

Hossein Kondori
Hossein Kondori, the director

Here One Does Not Die Film Review

Hossein Kondori, a young Iranian filmmaker, goes against the mainstream cinema of Iran to make a film on a psychic private. His narrative of a mentally ill person brings to mind films like Beautiful Mind where the protagonist sees unreal fictional characters. Unlike the John Nash, the protagonist is a soldier dealing with the unknown intruding woman who occupies and unbalances his soul and mind.

Here One Does Not Die
Ashkan in Observation Post

 Since that the director never shares Ashkan’s past experience with the audience and from the exchanging words between the characters, particularly Ashkan’s internal monologue, it is likely that Ashkan’s problem originates from the “presence of woman” of any kind in his life. As long as he is within male presence, he is sound and sensible. But, as soon as a Rojin appears his mind goes numb. In a revealing internal monologue, he points out that he should not get close to this woman, Rojin.

To support my perspective, I would like to pay attention to the Ghasem’s wife. His wife is playing with dolls like a kid and he thinks that making her pregnant will exorcise her illness. In fact, we never hear Ghasem’s wife side of story nor Rojin one. We see the world from the two male characters. In Here One Does Not Die, what we see is a male-centered world where women are either trouble-maker like Rojin or mentally ill like Ghasem’s wife.   

Here One Does Not Die Film Location

The setting of the film is on Iran-Iraq borderline in Kurdish area of Iran. However, the film was shot in Rineh and its surrounding area near Mount. Damavand.

Iran film location
Rineh, Amol County, Mazandaran
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