AT THE RIVER'S END
Iran, 2004, 90 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Behruz Afkhami.
At the River's End is an experimental film, as if the director, who also wrote the screenplay and edited the film, had been studying the works of Carl Jung on dreams.
The central character is seen only at the end of the film. For the most part of the film, the camera is his subjective eye, interacting with characters, their looking straight into the camera to interact with him, his particular perceptions of what was going on around him. With the narrative, the central characters is writing his memories, writing down his dreams. As the film continues, it is sometimes difficult to know whether there is any reality or whether everything is a dream. The past sequences of his childhood and adolescence, especially accompanying his father to bathe in the river in the mornings, seems to be something of a dream, especially as he recounts the death of his father, only to recount that his father died in an entirely different way in his shop. There is a modern period, also subjective, where the young man is writing his story, sharing an apartment with two friends. However, by the end of the film, when we see the face of the central characters, his father appears in the apartment. Again, it is difficult to know what is dream and what is reality, especially as his father takes him then to an old part of Teheran, with his memories of World War II and a Polish refugee who was a singer, her restaurant which has since disappeared - but the gate of which opens onto the countryside and a lake. On the banks of the lake, the son confronts his father - and then moves into the water himself - where the film ends.
The film is experimental in style, using a very widescreen format as well as the subjective camera, with scenes in both Isfahan with its beautiful setting and Teheran with its more mundane setting. The film uses the same visual style for reality and dream - unless everything is dream. It is an attempt for a young man to come to terms with the past, especially as embodied by his father, memories of his interactions with his father, his dislike of his father, wishing him dead - but then having some opportunity to reconcile with him.
1. The impact of the film? Visually, style, content? Dreams and reality? Family relationships, dreams and literature as a way of coming to terms with relationships and the past?
2. The 80s setting in Isfahan, the details of the city, its beauty, the river and the bridges? The shops? The contrast with the scenes in Teheran, comparatively drab? The highway between the two cities? The musical score?
3. Cinema and illusions, cinema and dreams, cinema reflecting and mirroring reality? The film, in its screenplay and style, combining each of these aspects? The effect on the audience, audience emotions, understanding? The need for reflection to understand the full meaning?
4. The device of the camera being the subjective eye of the central character? The audience seeing the central character face-on only towards the end of the film? The effect on the continuous narrative, the perspective of the central character, his comments about dreams and reality? Interpreting what we see through his words, confusion, wondering about dreams?
5. The young man as a boy, accompanying his father, the bathing, the long scene tracking along the bridge behind his father, his admiration for his father? The father explaining to the wife that he went to the public baths but did not? His father marrying when he was old, his mother marrying when she was older? His reputation as a tailor, his mother never going near the shop but repeating this. Marrying him because he was a successful tailor? The story of his decline, not getting orders, not having rich customers, having to repair clothes? The alternative of death in the shop, and the people finding him? His mother's death? His father pushing him into the river, his going home running and being drenched but warm, his father arriving soon after? His telling the truth to his mother and her reaction? His resentment towards his father, wishing him dead? The present, his being in Teheran with his friends, his description of the poet and seeing the poet in action? The other man and his preparing to be a bridegroom? The story of his courtship, the marriage, non-consummation, his wanting to leave for Teheran, leaving the bride behind? His father appearing to him in Teheran, his two friends being there but not seeing the father? The discussion, the father explaining the past, the fact that the family in Isfahan swindled him to get the shop? The son asking his father about the past, his death, his mother's death? The story about the war, the song that he sang, the Polish singer, the restaurant? The heady days of World War II?
6. The character of the father, truth and reality, perception and dream? The war, the Polish singer, his skill as a tailor, his not wanting to be a tailor? His inability to follow the Polish woman home? His marriage, his business, his nagging wife? The swimming in the river? His relationship with his son, the son not swimming, pushing him into the river? The marriage, getting the shop? His appearing at the end, taking his son on a final journey, his son going finally into the river?
7. The family and cousins, the infatuation by the young man and his cousin, the arranged marriage, her working in the shop, her agreement that he go to Teheran?
8. The two friends, their life in the apartment, the poet and his composing a poem with the help of the father, the friend and the father applauding while the central character looked on? Their ambitions in life?
9. The overall impact of the film, sharing in the dreams, the confusion of dreams, the lucidity of dreams, symbolism of dreams, the symbolism of water and is powers, the relationship between father and son, resentment and reconciliation?