Moving house is always a tough experience, but moving to another country is something else entirely. The last days, in particular, can take on an almost surreal quality, as you shut down every aspect of your life and start to say goodbye to the people, friends, family and neighbours, who have been part of your day to day existence, not knowing when (or if) you see them again.
Amir (Peyman Moaadi) and Sara (Negar Javaherian) are a young couple in Tehran, going through their last day chores before leaving for 3-4 years of life and study in Melbourne. There is lots to do, with bags to be packed, furniture to moved and utilities like water electricity and telephone to be disconnected.
In the middle of the activity, a sudden, almost unspeakably tragic event threatens to derail the couple’s departure plans. As they greet a succesion of visitors, not just friends and family, but the pawn broker who comes to buy their leftover belongings and even their landlord making a final inspection, the couple find themselves covering up what happened. Eventually the tension pushes the couple into conflict with each other.
Melbourne is director Nima Javidi’s first feature film and is the kind of assured, careful observation of human emotion we have come to expect from contemporary Iranian cinema. The camera often tracks close to Amir and Sara’s faces and when it moves out, we see them carefully composed and with subtle use of tonal contrast and colour, the director keeps things visually engaging.
Melbourne is an engrossing and at times difficult to watch film; everything is crafted for maximum emotional impact. The drama unfolds in near real time, with few edits, and almost all the film happening in the couple’s small apartment. The incessant sound of phones and of course, the doorbell, add to the tension in a thoroughly Hitchcockian way.
At one point a visitor reminds the couple that Melbourne was recently voted the best city in the world. The unspoken comment being Tehran never features near the top of such lists. It’s one of many questions the couple has to deflect, about their reasons for moving, when they will return and how the move will effect their family, all of which while covering up the tragedy in their midst.
Melbourne is a sharp, intelligent piece of cinema, remarkable and subtle at the same time. Moaadi and Javaherian deliver brilliant performances and Javidi has clearer established himself as a director to watch. Highly recommended.