3 stars (out of four)
"Men at Work" is another fine Iranian film that, happily enough, ignores or sabotages the usual stereotypes. Directed and written by Mani Haghighi, and a prize-winner at several film festivals, this movie is a naturalistic comedy-drama based on a story by Iran's most acclaimed and brilliant filmmaker, Abbas Kiarostami ("A Taste of Cherry"). In form, it's another of Kiarostami's "driving" tales, this time about four male 50ish friends on their way back from a ski trip in their SUV, who get sidetracked when one of them, Mammad (Ahmad Hamed), becomes obsessed with a large rock jutting up from a cliff edge on the high mountain.
Absurdly, Mammad and the others become determined to send the rock toppling over the edge and down the mountainside. The whole thing starts as a kind of joke, but the rock resists all their efforts--as it's pushed, dug under, hauled by a donkey, pried with a makeshift lever or even rammed with the SUV. When two women in the group join them, they take a more humorous attitude toward the great task. But their efforts are futile as well.
The rock, it seems, stands for something seemingly immovable. Iranian culture? The state? The forces of nature? A stubborn phallic symbol? It could be any or all of them. But, essentially, it's a rock that just won't budge--and that drives some of these men crazy.
"Men at Work," in the end, is a somewhat slight film but an enjoyable and sympathetic one. Watching it, we get the pleasure of recognizing some of our own problems in a supposedly distant, foreign culture. Kiarostami may have supplied the story, but Haghighi has a more naturalistic touch with performances than his mentor. All the characters here are warm, human and convincing, and the film glides easily from the initial tone of light humor to the increasingly painful drama.By the end, especially in these politically tense times, it becomes reassuring to see one more realistic Iranian film that portrays the country's people as ordinary and human--and preoccupied more with sports and their romantic and family lives than world tensions or nuclear ambitions.
'Men at Work'
Directed and written by Mani Haghighi; story by Abbas Kiarostami; photographed by Koohyar Kalari; edited by Mastaneh Mohajer; production designed by Amir Esbati; produced by Mohammad Reza Ta shtkeshian. In Farsi, with English subtitles. A Film Movement release; opens Friday at Facets Cinematheque. Running time: 1:15. No MPAA rating (parents cautioned for mildly frank dialogue).
Sahar - Mahnaz Afshar
Mammad - Ahmad Hamed
Mohsen - Mahmoud Kalari
Jalil - Reza Kianian
Morteza - Atila Pesiani
Nader - Omid Roohani