The minibus continues to plough through the water – and towards an uncertain future. The three protagonists pass the time singing together, lending their voice to everything from Iranian folk songs to pop tunes. 

"In the film, we listen to music the whole way through, and also get a feeling for the kind of music that the Iranian youth listen to now," co-producer Khalifa explains.

Crew members during the filming of "Bandar Band" (photo: Bamdar Film (Tehran)/kapFilme Berlin)
Hope and resilience amid adversity: according to Heike Mund, one of the film's key messages is that Iran's youth won't be defeated, and – much like the movie's protagonists – are constantly seeking new paths

A long, treacherous journey

At last, they emerge from a rough and bumpy sand road and reach a stretch of asphalt road. Things look better, at least for a while. But then the minibus comes to a sudden standstill in front of a gaping abyss: The road in front of the band has been washed away by the rain and has become impassable.

The three young musicians are seen standing helpless before the deep cracks in the pavement of the road. There is no way they can pass: they have to turn around. 

"We will be late," Mahla tells the concert organiser in Tehran, as an entire village covered in water come into view. But it's not just any village – it's the home of Navid, the guitarist. The trio had planned a stopover to pick up his concert guitar. 

As they wade through the hip-deep water towards his house and enter, the instrument drifts toward him. And this is when the full severity of the situation truly hits him.

The elusive dream of freedom

Navid is completely devastated. With his eyes closed, he lets the wind blow through hair. In short flashbacks, he is seen standing on stage singing. But this world has been destroyed.

Yasmin Khalifa explains why the inability to perform with his beloved guitar is so earth-shattering: "If they win this music competition, they'll go on from Tehran to Amsterdam, London and Berlin. They could finally travel along the Rhine in Germany, they think. But the reality in Iran is quite different: they are not allowed to go; they are locked up in this country. And where is the only place they truly are free? In their heads, in their music, in their dreams."

Director Manijeh Hekmat is a highly respected filmmaker in Iran, according to co-producer Yasmin Khalifa. She has managed to build a reputation at festivals around the world but also faces ubiquitous censorship in Iran.

Though that issue is only hinted at in the film, political messages resonate gently between the lines of dialogues. The imagery of the film is charged with metaphors while also serving as a visual homage to the beautiful landscapes of Iran.

A message of hope

The film benefits from a strong sense of authenticity due to all the incidental documentary-style material, which was unexpectedly created by the unplanned events that occurred during the trip. 

The fact that that the three protagonists are actually actors who were cast to fit their roles is forgotten in the dramaturgy of the story, which is enhanced by the arduous circumstances in which the film had to be completed.

Towards the end, a thunderstorm casts its shadow over a deserted rest area; a dog is seen playing in a puddle. Water, water everywhere. But throughout it all, hope remains. 

This is also one of the film's key messages: Iran's youth won't be defeated, and – much like the movie's protagonists – are constantly seeking new paths.

Heike Mund

© Deutsche Welle 2020

"Bandar Band" is a joint production of the Tehran-based production company Bamdad Film and the Berlin-based studio kapFilme. Its world premiere took place on 19 September at the TIFF Film Festival in Toronto. Later in September, it will also be shown at the Filmfestival Zurich.

Director Manijeh Hekmat (born in Arak, Iran, in 1962) has been working in the Iranian film industry since 1982, producing her first feature film "Women's Prison" in 2002. This film was also shown at the Berlinale Film Festival. Travel restrictions caused by the coronavirus outbreak will prevent her from attending the premiere of her current film.

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