In the Land of Brothers review: Decades-long journey of three Afghani refugees - Hindustan Times

In the Land of Brothers review: A striking decades-long journey of three Afghani refugees

Jan 27, 2024 04:04 PM IST

HT at Sundance | Raha Amirfazli and Alireza Ghasemi won the directing award for this sensitive take on decades-long stories of Afghani refugees living in Iran.

Administrative conflicts, displaced identities and refugee crisis collectively form an open wound in the new feature, In the Land of Brothers, which premiered at the World Cinema Dramatic Competition at Sundance Film Festival this year. These are mature, interconnected stories of countless Afghani families who start their lives in Iran as refugees. But is there such a space called home at all? In their debut feature, Iranian writer/directors Alireza Ghasemi and Raha Amirfazli capture the struggles of migrants through their perspective, in three separate chapters spanning decades. (Also read: Never Look Away review: An indelible portrait of journalist Margaret Moth)

A still from In the Land of Brothers.
A still from In the Land of Brothers.

The first chapter begins in 2001, in the snowclad winters of the Iraninan city of Bojnold. Mohammad (sensitively played by Mohammad Hosseini) is a shy and handsome teenager whose life alters one fine day while he is returning from school. He has a soft corner for the girl Leila (Hamideh Jafari), with whom he studies English at the end of the day. Mohammad's life is altered forever when he is picked up by the police force one fine day after school. Hosseini's performance is so moving and believable here and that his absence hangs around like a ghost in the succeeding chapters.

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The narrative picks Leila in the second chapter ten years later. Her situations have changed too. Now, she works as a housekeeper for a wealthy Iranian family with her husband and son in the Bandar Anzali. An unexpected secret about her husband makes her recoil in utter desperation and panic, lest they face deportation. She must hide and simultaneously, erase any signs of the truth as fast as possible. The strongest of the three chapters in terms of its screenplay and structure, this one lands with necessary intrigue and awareness. Even if you root for Leila, you know not what to expect of her. I was reminded of Kore-eda Hirokazu's Shoplifters in one specific scene that rings true for its quiet, emotional truth.

In the last chapter, the story ultimately opens in Tehran in 2021, where Leila's brother Ghasem (Bashir Nikzad) comes to know that his son was martyred during the war. Here too, the burden of the secret looms large, as he dare not tell the truth to his deaf wife and two children. This last chapter is perhaps the weakest of the lot, not because of its subject, but for its rather dry and predictable design. The release, when it does arrive, feels too carefully constructed to hit the mark.

This is a striking and melancholic film, unfolding within gentle interiors and ravaged corners. What gives the ambitious, decades-long journey its texture is the subdued camerawork by Farshad Mohammadi and the moving sound design by Frederic Alvarez. Even as Raha Amirfazli and Alireza Ghasemi's film slightly suffers due to its recurring structures, it carries a necessary alliance in hope. By chronicling three separate stories embedded through refugee perspectives, In The Land of Brothers recognises the struggles and specific journeys that are trapped in a land that these living, breathing entities cannot call home. There are no easy answers, no easy resolutions.

Santanu Das is covering the Sundance Film Festival 2024 as part of the accredited press.

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