Mitra Tabrizian’s Gholam stars Shabab Hosseini in an intense story of a mysterious lonely exile’s alienation from two cultures.
When Worlds Collideby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Gholam has the pace and visual feel of an Iranian film yet it’s set in a very contemporary London. Gholam, played by Shahab Hosseini (Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman), ekes out a meagre lonely London living as a minicab driver by night and a car mechanic by day. The scenes of him driving at night shot as his point of view through the windscreen are at times reminiscent of Panahi’s Taxi Tehran, though the mood is darker, more alienated and less politically subversive.
Gholam lives alone in a miserably sparse bedsit and eats at his uncle’s Iranian cafe. Arash (Armin Karima), his aspiring-rapper young cousin, hero worships him. Meanwhile, the Arab Spring of 2011 is erupting all around him through the media and the radio he listens to while driving.
When he’s recognised by chance one day as a hero from the Iran-Iraq war by an old acquaintance, he’s put under pressure to rejoin in some unspecified role and return to Iran by Mr Sharif (another well-known Iranian actor Behrouz Behnejad). His reaction makes it clear that war and fighting has burnt him out. He goes out of his way to be kind to a saintly, elderly African-Caribbean lady (Corinne Skinner-Carter) but he attracts the attention of a violent, racist local gang – three English yobs, not as convincingly written as the Iranian characters.
London, mainly shot at night, is a grim place for Middle-Eastern ex-patriots. Hosseini is intense as a man caught between two worlds, miserable in a strange city and culture yet not willing to return to Iran despite repeated phone calls from his mother. The thugs who pick on him and take him on get more than they bargained for – though, tragically and pointlessly, so does Gholam.
Mitra Tabrizian, in her first film, tells the story elliptically but with a stomach-churning sense of dread. What dialogue there is is partly in English and partly in Farsi and the direction of the plot is sometimes oblique, though her background as a photographer, the film is beautifully shot. As a new filmmaker she’s well worth seeking out and I look forward to seeing what she does in future.
Gholam is released on 23 March 2018 in the UK.