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11.12.08

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Phaedra

A Few Kilos of Dates for a Funeral

One disc; Facets; $29.95

Reviewed by Richard von Busack


What we think of as the Jarmusch comedy—the story of loneliness and failure, usually transpiring in a whited-out part of the snow belt (as when Jarmusch's typical trio of characters went to look at Lake Erie in the dead of winter)—actually may go back all the way to the silent comedy. If you don't know that what you're watching is supposed to be funny, what you see is what's onscreen. In short: unhappy-looking figures in unflattering clothes, stuck with each other on the edge of some vast remote place, as in the starvation cabin scene in Chaplin's The Gold Rush. Saman Salour's 2006 anti-comedy, still banned in his native Iran, concerns a pair of gas station attendants bivouacked in a broken-down bus in a high-desert nowhere. The main highway bypassed this station a while ago, and the snow keeps any random traffic from coming by. The day boss is Sadry (Mohsen Tanabandeh), the wreck of a street-corner strongman and boxer, with one dead eye; his whiny, skinny pal Yadi (Nader Fallah) serves as companion, whipping boy and sounding board. Occasionally, they are visited by the local postman. All three men are lovelorn in different ways, but Sadry has some secret rendezvous in a nearby parked car with a curiously immobile woman. The silvery forlornness, well photographed in black-and-white, is diluted with some clumsy rustic comedy about the village idiot. The subtler comedy comes in the way Iran's have-nots deal with being thwarted—with either raving bluster or timeless, sweet-natured obliviousness: they choose to be Mr. Hardy's irresistible force or Mr. Laurel's immovable object.


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