"Djomeh" should be required viewing for anyone who would write off the entire Afghan people based on the actions of a group of religious fanatics with whom most of them aren't even associated.
Not that the film which was made well in advance of the Sept. 11 attacks was produced to defend the Afghans against possible U.S. discrimination. However, it does manage to make several worthy pleas for compassion for different cultures and peoples without forcing its messages down our throats or bludgeoning us with heavy-handedness.
This is certainly not meant to suggest that the film won't be of interest to general audiences, many of whom are looking for a kinder, gentler movie than Hollywood seems capable of producing at this point and time. In fact, it's to that latter group that this deceptively simple, ultimately heart-breaking drama will probably appeal most.
The title character is a young Afghan (Jalil Nazari) who has been sent to Iran by relatives after committing some sort of unpardonable act. Fortunately, he's found employment working for local farm-owner Mahmoud (Mahmoud Behraznia).
His co-worker (Rashid Akbari) is a fellow Afghan, and Djomeh warms to his employer's company even disclosing to him the reasons why his family "banished" him to Iran. Djomeh even dares to share a more potentially damaging morsel of information he's secretly in love with Setareh (Mahbobeh Khalili), a local grocer girl. But Djomeh is afraid to reveal his feelings, as his new home does not allow "open courting," and many of the locals would probably frown upon one of their own becoming involved with an "outsider."
Although filmmaker Hassan Yektapanah is a disciple of Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, this bears only the most superficial resemblance to Kiarostami's "neo-realist" films (which are heavy with pseudo-documentary aspects). Instead, it has a lot more in common with the recent no-frills humanist dramas of Chinese director Zhang Yimou, particularly his emotional "Not One Less" and the even-more-precious "The Road Home."
Some impatient audiences may be put off by the slower character-driven pacing a stark contrast to the faster, louder action U.S. audiences have become used to. But it just makes the film seem more natural and convincing.
And though nearly all of actors are amateurs, the cast is top-to-bottom solid (newcomer Nazari sometimes seems a little camera-shy but he makes a very sympathetic lead).
"Djomeh" is not rated but would probably receive a PG for brief violence (some rock-throwing and an off-screen beating) as well as use of some mild, religious-based profanity. Running time: 94 minutes.