London-based Iranian film-maker Babak Jalali has crafted this droll, ruminative, engaging indie picture in luminous black-and-white featuring deadpan, dead-slow dialogue exchanges with more than a little of early Jim Jarmusch.
It’s set in Fremont, California, the town with the biggest Afghan community in the US, and real-life Afghan refugee and former TV news presenter Anaita Wali Zada plays Donya, a former translator for the US army who has now taken up residency in a dispiritingly featureless apartment block along with other expats. She’s dealing with insomnia and survivor’s guilt, thinking about the way her life choices have endangered her family back in the old country where any association with America is pure poison.
Donya manages to get a “pro bono” therapy slot with an eccentric psychiatrist, Dr Anthony (an amusing performance from Gregg Turkington) who insists on relating her situation, and probably every patient’s situation, to Jack London’s novel White Fang, which he emotionally reads aloud, suppressing sobs. Donya tells people she is a writer; in fact, she is employed at a Chinese fortune cookie factory, where she writes the little prophecies within, and now she sends out messages to the world with her phone number, hoping for love, or human connection of some kind. This leads, somewhat circuitously, to an encounter with a gentle mechanic, Daniel, played by Jeremy Allen White (from TV’s The Bear).
This is the kind of movie whose amiable directionlessness and romantic gentleness generate a lot of warmth; it’s the kind of independent film which we haven’t seen a lot of lately, endowed with intimacy and a kind of dreamy charm.