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IFFR 2023 Big Screen Competition

Review: Endless Borders

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- Iranian director Abbas Amini's Rotterdam prizewinner is an early contender for the most structurally complex and ethically nuanced film of the year

Review: Endless Borders
Pouria Rahimi Sam in Endless Borders

The winning film of IFFR’s Big Screen Competition, Endless Borders [+see also:
trailer
interview: Abbas Amini
film profile
]
(see the news), promises to be one of 2023's most complex pictures, even if the year has only just begun. The fifth feature by Iran's Abbas Amini deals with numerous moral and ethical issues in a distinctively nuanced way, but at its heart are those values which we hold dearest: freedom and love.

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Ahmad (Pouria Rahimi Sam, from Zalava and Ballad of a White Cow [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
) is a schoolteacher in exile in a remote village on the border with Afghanistan, where local Balochi people help smuggle Afghan refugees into the country. The reasons for his exile are probably political but are initially unclear, and it appears that his wife, Niloofar (Mino Sharifi), is in prison for the same or similar crimes. This larger arc of the story that starts off in the background will come full circle in the film’s touching and dignified ending, contrasting with its nervous and tense proceedings.

Even though Ahmad is banned from teaching and has to report to the parole office in a nearby town regularly, he keeps doing his job with the local children and a group of Hazaras from Afghanistan. Among them, one family stands out: their old patriarch is very sick, and even though there is a doctor (Naser Sajjad Hosseini) among the group, he can do little without medicine. As Ahmad lets the old man stay in his house, he notices there is something going on between the teenage girl in the family, Haseeba (Behafirid Ghaffarian), and the son of the village chief, Balaj (Hamed Alipour). Foreseeing trouble from both sides, he tries to intervene, only to find out the situation is even more difficult: Haseeba is actually the old man's wife, given over to him by a family in debt.

Balaj seems to be instrumental in getting refugees a ride, but he is intentionally postponing the departure of Haseeba's family to Iran proper and on to Turkey. The technicalities of this border situation are unclear, and for most viewers, the relations between the ethnic groups, languages, religious affiliations and customs will also remain enigmatic. Some clues can be gleaned from the dialogue, but there is so much happening in the film's 110 minutes that the audience is best advised to simply let it play out like a thriller in which danger for the protagonists lurks inside their families and communities, as well as stemming from government forces.

Rahimi Sam admirably carries the film as a man who demands a lot from himself and others, despite all the mistakes he keeps making. His secular values and good intentions often backfire in this tricky environment, but in the final act, it becomes clear that his flaws are inseparable from his humanness.

The setting, as captured by Saman Loftian's deep-focus camera, reflects the film's thematic contradictions. This remote region feels both huge and claustrophobic, with large expanses of grey sand, dust and rocks fenced off by monumental, unforgiving mountains and the long border wall. Colourist Braňo Daniš makes the grey so dominant that it seems to tinge the characters’ faces and the sky itself.

The film's most valuable player must be editor Haideh Safiyari, who was instrumental in making Asghar Farhadi's complicated narratives intelligible. She not only holds together the numerous strands of the screenplay by Amini and Hossein Farrokhzad, which sometimes threatens to burst at the seams, but also creates an impressive structure subtly supported by cellist Atena Eshtiaghi's sparse score.

Endless Borders is a co-production between the Czech Republic's Europe Media Nest, Germany's PakFilm and Iran's Filminiran.

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