Atabai: Review. By Andrew Prosser.
Twenty-one, thirty-one, forty-one, fifty-one, sixty-one, seventy-one, eighty-one, ninety-one, one hundred and one, one hundred and eleven, hundred twenty-one, one hundred and thirty-one. So counts the narrator and titular character of writer-director Niki Karimi’s latest, Atabai, as the filmbegins.
And a fitting beginning it is, because much like watching the rest of the film, as we sit there, listening to our lead monotonously drone on in voiceover, the camera slowly zooming in on his stoic face, what we’re seeing and hearing defies any attempt to glean its significance – and there’s no end in sight.
The character goes on to explain he met his deceased mother in a dream, asked her at what age he would die, but couldn’t hear her answer, but in a move that will be repeated many times throughout the film, we’re presented with a mystery (why the counting), and given the answer almost immediately, yet it remains unclear why that answer matters. Karimi seems instead more preoccupied with mood than with story, more interested in painting her protagonist as a man haunted by the ghosts of his past than in giving an audience any inkling what that same character endeavors to do with his future.
There are the bones of a straight-forward homecoming story here, as Atabai returns to his family home in the countryside to find the orchard has been sold to a rich out-of-towner. There are the seeds of a family drama as Atabai frets over the proper way to raise his surrogate son, the teenage child of the lost sister whose memory haunts him.
And, perhaps most bizarrely, there is a love triangle, one side of which reveals itself for the first and last time as a young woman begs the graying Atabai to marry her, even though viewers are likely scratching their heads at that point, trying to recall if the two had ever spoken before. With so many disparate plot points, it becomes impossible to tell what actually matters, and the film suffers a lack of any forward momentum because of it.
The performances are powerful, but one can only endure two men cutting open their shared trauma and clearly stating exactly how they feel on a beautiful hillside so many times. All in all, Atabai is a collection of scenes jammed together, many of which are genuinely touching, but this amalgamation is not stronger than the sum of its parts, making this one ultimately forgettable.
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