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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Memory)
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.