LETTERS IN THE WIND (Ali Reza-Amini, 2002)

Those who have seen Frederick Wiseman’s documentary Basic Training (1971) or Stanley Kubrick’s fictional Full Metal Jacket (1987), or both, can add Nameha-ye baad, from Iran, to their list of films showing the training of raw military conscripts. In this case, the secluded setting of the army camp is mountainous and snowy, correlative, perhaps, to the freezing of the teens’ souls. Regardless, the 21-month procedure responds to memories of the Iran-Iraq War—the director, Ali Reza-Amini, is himself a veteran of that war—and, short of new war’s breaking out, the camp experience fulfills the boys’ military obligation.
     A tape-recorded female voice, which Taghi, one of only two conscripts given names, has smuggled in becomes a fantastic connection to the real world as the boys listen to it in turn. When he is furloughed to Tehran, Taghi relays recorded messages to the families of fellow conscripts and records street sounds.
     The brief black-and-white opening stuns: handheld camera, simulating cinéma-vérité, capturing each crack in the comfort-level of teenagers who are being plunged into a new, highly restrictive environment. (One recruit won’t stand for it.) Color enters in lovely long-shots of the group’s bus-transport to the remote camp. I’m afraid I found nothing that follows the opening the least bit interesting or moving; indeed, I found the two-shots of verbally quarreling kids excrutiatingly artificial. The “surprise ending,” which charms others, I found unconvincing and evasive. Throughout, the absence of an added musical score is an asset, while an episodic structure, helpful elsewhere, generates flimsiness here. This may have something to do with the film’s short duration: 1¼ hours.
     The patchwork script is by first-time director Reza-Amini and Keivan Nakhaei; Bayram Fazli’s dark cinematography, which does especially beautifully with negative space inside the barracks, is first-rate.

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