Bandar Band is a melodious road trip, and director Manijeh Hekmat wants us to experience it as if we’re part of it. Floods in Iran’s Khuzestan Province have turned everything into a sodden landscape, making it look like a wondrous dreamscape in which three musicians dare to conquer the drenched roads, not knowing where this day will take them. The only thing set in stone is their destination: a battle of the bands, that same evening, in Tehran.

The almost hallucinatory odyssey goes paired with pit-stops, where our band gets confronted with police forces and meet friends & family. Time is tight, but it seems there’s always room to say ‘hi’. Although Hekmat’s view of Navid (Reza Koolghani), Amir (Amir Hossein Tahiri) and the very pregnant Mahla (Mahdieh Mousavi) is fairly even-handed, ultimately we are watching a chain of situations that keeps stopping their journey from going where it needs to go.

Because most of the people Bandar Band meets on the road are so charming, the brief stops never annoy, but rather make you excited for what they’ll bump into next. What’s lacking is the sense of urgency. It seems to me you wouldn’t want to end up stuck in the middle of nowhere with a very pregnant woman. Although Bandar Band is a drama, it almost feels like we’re watching a documentary. The way DOP Sajjad Avarand films the banter during their day-long drive, feels authentic and honest.

Some of the on-the-road meetings are highly effective, such as when we get to a town that’s completely destroyed by a mudslide, with an elderly woman crying sitting on top of the rubble, while Mahla is trying to find a relative with the hope to borrow a dress for her performance. Another scene, involving a group of men joyously stomping and dancing in puddles, celebrating their strength to overcome this disastrous flooding, feels sincere and unplanned. That’s where the beauty of this film elevates itself.

Hakmat knows how to blend music with genuine human emotions, even if she decides to take a completely different path in the final ten minutes of her film. She also has an eye for the untouched scenery of Iran, which is welcome in a time where everyone on the planet is incapable of travelling. What she lacks is focus in her story, making Bandar Band feel quite safe, even though her ensemble never loses their optimism considering the challenges put in front of them. Bandar Band lacks concentration, but is ambitiously charming.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Bandar Band is screening at TIFF20:
Wednesday, September 16 at 12:30pm @ TIFF Bell Lightbox
Saturday, September 19 at 6pm (online)
Tickets are available HERE

TIFF20 Review – ‘Bandar Band’

Reviewed online (as part of Toronto International Film Festival), September 16, 2020. Rating: TBC. Running time: 75 min.

PRODUCTION: A Bamdad Film, KapFilme production. Producers: Manijeh Hekmat, Mahshid Ahangarani Farahani. Executive producer: Daryosh Hekmat.

CREW: Director: Manijeh Hekmat. Screenplay: Manijeh Hekmat, Mostafa Zandi. Editor: Navid Tohidi. Cinematography: Sajjad Avarand. Music: Farshad Fozouni.

WITH: Reza Koolghani, Pegah Ahangarani, Amir Hossein Taheri, Mahdieh Mousavi.

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