Review by Nick Kouhi
The miraculous and the everyday comingle in The Deserted Station (Istgah-e Matrouk). Released at the height of Iranian cinema’s millennial popularity throughout the US arthouse circuit, this beguiling fable’s narrative simplicity deceptively masks an enigmatic wellspring of emotional and spiritual feeling.
While driving out to Mashed, a couple from the city find themselves stranded after their car breaks down in the middle of nowhere. A stranger named Feizolah (Mehran Rajabi) offers his assistance in exchange for the wife Mahtab (Leila Hatami) to substitute teach his classroom of children in his nearby village while he helps her photographer husband Mahmoud (Nezam Manouchehri) repair their car.
As Mahtab, Leila Hatami carries much of the film on her shoulders. Her composed, intelligent beauty bears traces of melancholy borne, in part, by the memories of several miscarriages. The mournful undercurrent of Kambuzia Partovi’s script, taken from a story by Abbas Kiarostami, courses alongside a dreamlike ambience that surprisingly forgoes melodrama. Like Kiarostami’s The Wind Will Carry Us (Bad ma ra khahad bord), The Deserted Station utilizes its setting for ruminating on greater questions beyond a binary dynamic between Iran’s urban and rural spheres.
Yet director Alireza Raisian harmoniously fuses Kiarostami’s laconic patience and Partovi’s penchant for social critique (most evident in his collaborations with Jafar Panahi) into an altogether stranger, sometimes uncanny synthesis. By nodding to the Imam Reza tale The Guarantor of the Deer, The Deserted Station deftly imbues an allegorical sensibility into its fundamentally maternal vision of life and death. What prevents the film from floating away into its own ineffable ether is the grounding presence of Hatami, one of those rare actors who can paradoxically project both an otherworldly quality and earthiness with just the slightest turn of her head.