The following is one of the entries from my 100 Greatest Asian Films list, which I invite you to visit on this site if you haven’t already done so. — Dennis
From Iran, Tabiate bijan, by Sohrab Shahid Saless, is a minimalist study of lonely, isolated existence. Mohamad Sardari has spent thirty years at a remote outpost raising and lowering a gate to keep road traffic from crossing tracks when a train passes. He lives with his wife in an unadorned shack; a few bare trees dot the threadbare landscape.
The railroad brings the son, who’s in the army, in for a night’s visit. His mother asks why he hasn’t written; he insists he has—once.
Father, mother, son assume stilted poses; when the three eat, each on the floor is isolated in a separate shot. The son, who takes over the one bed, his father’s, is almost too big for it. He tells his mother a button has come off his coat, takes off the coat and hands it to his mother as she, a beat behind, says, “Give it to me to sew.” He has already done this. The timing discloses the son’s male presumption and prerogative, to be sure, but also an all-round awkwardness that undercuts the idea of family as bulwark against a formidable outside world.
An official, dropping by, buys a rug that the woman has woven—one adornment in the shack. Mohamad, given ridiculously little money, is told, “You don’t have to sell it if you’re not satisfied”; but the rug has already been rolled up and is headed out the door. “I’ve been dismissed,” Mohamad says over and over again, as if trying his best to adjust to the shocking news, once he is informed of the fact. His last act before vacating the shack and heading for nowhere in a horse-drawn cart is to remove the shack’s other adornment: a small wall mirror that reflects back at him a disposable existence.
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