A collection of five narratives, all set in Iran: A police officer is unhappily in love with a cashier; a sculptor dreams of emigrating; a young man tries to kill himself; and two blind jewellery thieves try the heist of their lives.

4
Multi-narrative puzzle pays off.

PERSIAN FILM FESTIVAL: Shahram Mokri’s non-linear narrative on numerous lives – cops, blind robbers, pretty morgue attendants, a manic-depressive, a sculptor and a fish – has a showiness that skirts close to that very American, indie-cool self-awareness that was the undoing of a thousand Pulp Fiction wannabes. In spite of that, the work that emerges is more akin to Jim Jarmusch than Tarantino; it is brimming with a delightful eccentricity, warm characters and a sublime sense of timing.

Mokri’s opening sequences – an art dealer consoling an artist who has failed to sell a single piece; two sightless thieves in a hotel room, mulling nervously over each other’s responsibilities in their soon-to-unfold heist – feel awkwardly self-conscious and entirely disconnected. The script is neither here-nor-there, the words falling from the actors mouths with a monotonous thud. But Mokri is working to a very precise template; he sets up the joke perfectly to enable these scenes to rise to a successful payoff.

So goes much of Ashkan, The Charmed Ring and Other Stories (the film, thankfully, is never as cumbersome as its title). Dialogue, props, settings, and sound effects that may at first appear entirely inconsequential take on destiny-defining importance in this remarkably-assured debut work. (It was shot by Payam Azizi in beautiful black-and-white, evoking further nods to early Jarmusch.) Plotted too densely and peopled with a cast too numerous to detail here, it is sufficient to say that the film’s genre-specific tropes – the crime melodrama’s suitcase of cash, the love story’s unrequited passion, and the existential drama’s death-obsessed anti-hero – are all given a fresh spin.

I’m fully convinced Mokri is a tremendously talented storyteller due to a deftly-handled split-screen passage in which a forensic specialist enthrals his students with a version of a cadaver’s demise while the actual events, a million miles from the professor’s theories, unfold concurrently. Mokri unveils the scene at a point where momentum has been steadily building and surprising twists have focussed attention; he knows we are along for the giddy ride by this point.

Some insider film gags err on the side of smug self-consciousness. When two characters start riffing on the merits and relevance of the Alain Delon classic Le Samourai, it plays more like coffee-house banter between first-year film students and hiccups the flow of the film.

Mokri is at his best when he captures the personal impact of the enmeshed narrative strands. His characters have agendas and occasionally madcap schemes, but their importance is only evident when they intersect with the lives of those who share their journeys. The film jauntily ambles along with a winning sense of the sweetly absurd, but it soars when it takes a breath to share in a fleeting romantic glimpse, a fish’s freedom or, in its final moments, the touch of an angel.

Thematically, Ashkan, The Charmed Ring and Other Stories suggests that for all the convoluted burdens we create for ourselves, it is how we interact as humans that is most crucial.