2005 - France /Iran - 105 minutes
Director and Writer - Kambuzia Partovi
My Rating - 4 of 5 Stars
A clash of several different cultures is the basis of Border Café. The story is one that is lived over and over again in our society - a widow continues her husband's business - but placing the same situation in Iran, makes it a totally different ball of wax.
Widow Reyhan is expected to take her two children and move in with her husband's older brother. It seems that this is the custom in this area of Iran. It is not stated, but implied that she is also expected to give her new husband sexual favors. Reyhan is an independent woman and chooses not to move. Nasser - her brother-in-law and future husband - tries every way he can to convince Reyhan to follow the custom. Nasser's wife and mother - as well as his younger brother - also implore Reyhan to honor the custom and, therefore, honor her dead husband. All of this is carried out in a most courteous fashion.
Nasser is not a villain. He is simply a good man trying to follow the customs of his family and community and provide for his dead brother's family. He remains extremely patient considering the affront to his pride by his determined sister-in-law. He is not a wild-eyed Iranian man demeaning and castigating women, but a loving man who honors the women in his life - a view we here in the United States don't often see of men of this region of the world.
Reyhan is an extremely independent woman. She loves and respects her brother-in-law and his family but makes it clear that it is not the custom where she was reared to marry her dead husband's brother and does not intend to do so. Neither will she move into her brother-in-law's house. She defies all convention and reopens the café that was owned by her husband. The café is located on the highway near the Turkish border and soon becomes a favorite of the truckers due to the delicious meals prepared by Reyhan and the friendly, family atmosphere. The truckers of all nationalities think of the café as a little home away from home.
As the café becomes more and more popular, Nasser becomes more and more frustrated with the situation. Not only is his brother's wife defying the family's time-honor custom, but the café is taking business away from his own restaurant. He decides to appeal to the authorities in order to have the café closed.
There are two interesting sub-plots in this film. One concerns a Russian girl who travels with the truckers in an attempt to get to Italy to be reunited with her sister. All the other members of the girl's have been killed, and her far-off sister is her only hope to regain the warmth of family. It appears that the girl is somewhat naïve and is being taken advantage of by the truckers. She is given a safe place to stay by Reyhan which is against the laws and customs of the area.
The other sub-plot is an unrealized love story - one between Reyhan and a Greek trucker who has been deserted by his wife. The tender romance between the two is mostly carried out through eye contact and expressions of generosity for, due to the area and circumstances, it is a forbidden love. In this sub-plot, we see the only wild-eyed Iranian in the film - Reyhan's younger brother-in-law who viciously attacks the Greek when his love for Reyhan is discovered. Of course, such macho posturing can be found throughout the world when testosterone is mixed with envy.
Border Café is the first film from Iran to be submitted for an Academy Award. One reviewer I read contends that it was approved by the Iranian government because it gives credence to tradition, and it certainly does. The tradition is viewed as archaic through Western eyes, but the people following the tradition are not depicted as extremists, but merely as everyday people trying to live their lives as best they can. It is an eye-opening film.
November 25, 2007