Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat Mar 17, 2018 4:44 pm 
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Three Iranian friends on a last trip in the French South

Their names are Arash, Ashkan, and Hossein. Arash is grossly overweight; Askan is balding, with glasses, a photographer. Hossein is handsome and dark. All three are Iranian men in their early thirties living in France. Arash hasn't taken to the country and is about to leave. It's summer and the other persuade Arash to go on a road trip to the South, in hopes it may change his mind and make him stay, or just to enjoy his company one last time.

The camera lingers on Arash, and loves his comfortable obesity, which he carries well, though one wonders if the preference for being alone and slowness to make friends may not make his body either a symptom of a cause Arash does the driving. They camp, and seem to have a great deal of outdoor equipment and outfits. They sit up half the night talking, and Arash snores during the day, or provides a cushion for Ashkan's snoozes.

The story is semi-true, the conversations not far from fact, which concern such topics as friendship, courting women, feelings toward Iran and exile, poetry, and obligatory military service.

The last topic turns out to be a crucial and defining one. Arash's fatness began with a three-month period of intentional weight-gain he did at age 18, to make himself ineligible. Ashkan did his service at 18, so it's long in the past. Hossein gained exemption by costly bribe, requiring a bank mortgage. Now he earns on the trip from a phone call that the bank threatens to remove its sponsorship because in the past year he dropped out of university. He is married and 33. How can he go back and serve at this age and with a wife? But if he doesn't, he'll become an involuntary exile. None of these three wants to stay away from their homeland.

The other topic is women. Whether you quote the poetry of Hafiz or talk about Tarantino depends on whom you're seeking to impress, says Hossein, who coaches Ashkan on pickups. He is looking; Arash isn't; Hossein has no reason to. They wind up with two women, one of whom AShkan likes, who hang with them for several days. He might like to propose to her. They go to an amusement park, and to the girls' concert, and swimming.

Why include a movie mostly in Farsi in a French film festival? Because it's a French production, the director is an Iranian, Belgian, and Swiss mixture, and, unlike many pictures released in France this doesn't showcase Paris but is an escape from it into the French heartland, a festive, estive, rural world. And the style of the film, and its predominant emphasis on conversations, some of them philosophical, does not clash with francophone cinema at all.

The amiable and aimless semi-documentary material is confidently by first-timer Goormaghtigh but it's nonetheless a bit thin; hence the very short run-time. But this might be of interest to the wide world of Iranian expatriates, for whom it's an offhand expression, and to whom its scraps of sincere conversation by three youngish men about exile and adaptation and Hafiz might speak volumes. Nor did French critics and public take it amiss. AlloCiné shows a fair and equal reception by both (Critic rating 3.5; Viewer rating, ditto).

Before Summer Ends/Avant la fin de l'été, 80 mins., debuted at Cannes May 2017, and opened in French cinemas 17 July, showing at eight other festivals including London, Chicago and Vienna. Screened for this review as part of the 8-18 Mar. 2018 Unifrance-Film Society of Lincoln Center New york Rendez-Vous with French Cinema (shown 17 Mar. 1 pm).

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