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SUNDANCE 2024 World Cinema Dramatic Competition

Review: In the Land of Brothers


- The debut feature from Iranian filmmakers Raha Amirfazli and Alireza Ghasemi skilfully weaves together an edifying fiction in three parts, about Afghan refugees in dramatic circumstances

Review: In the Land of Brothers
Mohammad Hossei in In the Land of Brothers

"Our Afghan brothers, since they arrived in Iran, have proven their brotherhood on many occasions." Currently, five million Afghan refugees are in Iran, a country they call "the Land of their brothers." But the reality of their day-to-day life is a lot less rosy than official statements suggest, and a lot less rosy than their dreams. This is the original topic, unusual in the Iranian cinema that tends to be seen internationally, that Raha Amirfazli and Alireza Ghasemi have decided to explore in a fiction mode in their debut feature, aptly titled In the Land of Brothers [+see also:
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and unveiled at the Sundance Film Festival in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition. In this biting and touching film, survival and lies are key, as seen in three striking stories (and three angles on the topic) set in 2001, 2010, and 2021 and which intersect very elegantly.

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"You’re lucky that I like you, otherwise I would have expelled you right away." Mohammad (Mohammad Hossei), a 15-years-old high school student, is in a tricky situation in Bojnourd, arbitrarily ordered by the police to clear up a flooded basement full of archival material. He does not say word about it to his father ("what could he do about it?") and in the evening, he climbs the snow-covered hills to a horticultural farm where a group of Afghan refugees is working, among them Leila (Hamideh Jafari) and her elder brother Qasem (Bashir Nikzad). Mohammad and the young woman are secretly in love, but Leila is destined to an arranged marriage. Moreover, in just three days, the situation at the police station worsens as police officer Asgari (Hajeer Moradi) takes an increasingly worrying interest in the boy. Mohammad has no idea how to escape from these chains tightening around him… 

Nearly ten years later, we find Leila in Bandar Anzali, along the Caspian Sea, where she and her husband are guards for the secondary residence of a well-off couple (Mehran Vosoughi and Marjan Etefaghian) who arrive with friends to celebrate the Persian New Year. But there is a serious problem: Leila’s husband died that very morning in his room. Panicked at the prospect of losing her job, and in order to protect her young son, Leila hides the news to her understanding employers, whose suspicions grow as the evening progresses, among beach-side fireworks and stray dogs… 

Finally, in 2021, it is Qasem, Leila’s brother, who is the protagonist. In Tehran and Karaj, he is involved in a terrible story that begins with a summons to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, about his son gone to Turkey six months prior. How will Ghasem tell the truth to his wife Hanieh (Marjan Khaleghi)?

A cruel story told from three ingeniously varied angles (also in terms of visuals), In the Land of Brothers displays great control in its nesting doll narration, and knows how to set up unexpected twists and turns. Naturally moving due to the kafkaesque contexts the main protagonists struggle against, the film casts a gaze both implacable and tender on the extremely fragile place of the refugee, who is at the mercy of any and all unfavourable circumstance, whether it is well-intentioned or not, with lies born out of the simple wish to survive. It’s a merciless lesson, but life goes on…

In the Land of Brothers was produced by France’s Furyo Films, Iran’s Limited Circle and the Netherlands’ Baldr Film, co-produced by Cinema Tehran (Iran) and Avidia (France). International sales are handled by Paris-based company Alpha Violet.

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(Translated from French)

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