Laid-back Radio Dreams rewards your patience
Starring Mohsen Namjoo. In Farsi, English, Dari, and Assyrian, with English subtitles. Rating unavailable
The laid-back spirits of Jim Jarmusch, Wim Wenders, and Christopher Guest inform Radio Dreams, which follows an amusing batch of characters on a slow journey of (semi-) self-discovery.
The title refers to a fictional low-watt station in San Francisco, PARS-FM, that caters to Iranians and other homesick expats in Northern California. Although the place is nominally run by a wrestling-obsessed businessman (Keyumars Hakim) and his humourless daughter (glamorous Boshra Dastournezhad), its guiding light is the irascibly poetic Mr. Royami. This unlikely administrator is played by exiled singer-songwriter Mohsen Namjoo, whose long white mane and perpetually skeptical expression make him look like Frank Zappa by way of Sean Penn.
The leonine manager rubs his hands with lotion whenever he’s most perplexed (which is often), and he fills the airwaves with the words of dead Salvadoran poets and new versions of old Soviet songs. He openly loathes the ads for hair removal and pizza—not from the same place—that pay the bills. But everyone else is excited about the upcoming on-air meeting between real-life rockers Kabul Dreams, Afghanistan’s first rock band (playing themselves), and Bay Area stalwarts Metallica.
British-based director Babak Jalali’s previous feature, Frontier Blues, was set on Iran’s border with Turkmenistan. And here he continues casting a compassionate net over the wide variety of ethnic groups, languages, and personality types that make up modern Persia and its restless neighbours. This is one reason Royami prefers a story read in untranslated Assyrian by the station’s elderly cleaning lady to a puffball interview with Miss Iran USA.
The movie’s downbeat humour demands patience, even at 95 minutes; it’s unclear whether some of the supporting characters could survive the real world if they really acted that dumb. Still, it has a memorably funky look and Jalali’s set pieces usually pay off with a knowing punch line or funny aside. In the end, our hirsute antihero misses the big moment everyone’s been waiting for. But like most displaced persons, he knows all too well that you can’t be everywhere at once.