Review: A Few Cubic Meters of Love (Mahmoudi, 2014) – SFIFF 2015

Courtesy of the San Francisco Film Society

Courtesy of the San Francisco Film Society

Director Jamshid Mahmoudi‘s compelling debut feature film A Few Cubic Meters of Love, screening in a few weeks at the San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF), tells the tale of two lovesick youth divided by their different cultures. In the suburbs of Tehran, Iranian Saber (Sahed Soeili) and Afghan émigrée Marona (non-professional Hassiba Ebrahimi) steal away every lunchtime to an empty cargo container for their lovers’ tryst. Though affectionate, their meetings are innocent–too innocent even to be called flirtatious–full of laughter, jokes, and smiling declarations of love.

Both Saber and Marona live in a makeshift shantytown in the midst of a junkyard, which is also where Saber and Marona’s father, a severe ex-soldier, also work. Mahmoudi offers us a wealth of wide angle shots–corrugated tin roofs and discarded metal and concrete as far as the lens can see, almost beautiful in its roughness. This is not Asghar Farhadi‘s upper middle class Tehran peopled with the educated and disaffected. In some ways, Farhadi’s characters bear more resemblance to Americans than to Mahmoudi’s blue collar workers, who nonetheless conduct themselves with dignity and unquestioning propriety.

Marona and her father are not the only Afghan immigrants living at the workshop. Many of their relatives have come as well, though none of them are legally permitted to work in Iran. One day, a fellow worker, Iranian, approaches their employer asking if his uncle, too, can live at the workshop. His employer’s denial inflames the Iranian worker’s resentment toward his Afghan colleagues, exposing a dormant tension between the two groups. Meanwhile, Saber and Marona continue their blissful assignations, Marona laughingly insisting that her father would “kill” them if he found out. As we know from Romeo and Juliet, forbidden love is unlucky. I’ll leave it at that.

I love the world that Mahmoudi exposes to us in this story, full of hidden rules that even the characters themselves don’t fully understand. In the disagreements that ensue, all sides seem well-intentioned, well-reasoned. I was a little disappointed then that the film dodges the complicated issues it just begins to raise, its conclusion bringing us to an all too familiar (and somehow irrelevant-seeming) place. We are left with the feeling of something cut off, unfinished. Still, A Few Cubic Meters of Love is an impressive beginning from a talented filmmaker and is definitely worth going out of your way to see.

Buy your SFIFF tickets now for screenings on Friday, April 24; Sunday, May 3; or Tuesday, May 5.