Iranian director Mostafa Sayari’s debut feature As I Lay Dying is a freely adapted film version of the classic American novel by William Faulkner.
And while it may seem somewhat incongruous for an Iranian film to be made using an American novel as its basis – the gentle flow and patience with which this film has been made ensures it really works.
The plot centres on the tension generated between four siblings (three brothers and a sister) following the death of their elderly father.
While the two older brothers and sister Leila (played by Elham Korda) are close – the youngest brother Majid (Majid Aqakarimi) came into the family via a tragedy, and is now barely known to the others.
Majid also became further estranged from his older siblings when he opted to live with and look after his father in his dotage.
Of course, the years he spent caring for the old man also brought him closer to him – while the rest of the family drifted further apart.
To add to the mix, their mother died tragically years before – so when the father finally passes away (under somewhat dubious circumstances) – it is Majid who is tasked with the difficult responsibility of carrying out his father’s wishes, as dictated in his will.
Puzzlingly for the other siblings (and this detail is not mentioned in the will), Majid maintains his father had always wanted to be buried in a far off village, rather than in his hometown.
This assertion is strongly contested by one of the older brothers (played by Nader Fallah), who challenges the old man’s final wish, saying he must have ‘gone nuts’ in his last days.
The resulting physical altercation between the two siblings causes an even greater rift in the family.
Much of the remainder of the film revolves around the search for a suitable burial place for the old man – who is by now decomposing steadily in the Iranian summer heat.
Despite its dark and brooding overtones, As I Lay Dying is surprisingly uplifting – with director Sayari skilfully using the moody and sometimes temperamental character of Majid as a foil to the aggression and impetuousness of his headstrong older brother.
The result is a beautifully constructed film that is somehow enhanced and improved by the dry and unforgiving landscape that is the Iranian countryside.
The swirling kaleidoscope of emotions experienced by the siblings as they travel on their journey to bury their father is also captured wonderfully – with Sayari’s adaptation a masterpiece of both understatement and emotional turmoil.
As I Lay Dying is part of the 8th Iranian Film Festival, which is screening exclusively at Luna Cinemas in Leederville from November 2-7, 2018.
By Mike Peeters