Sex & philosophy
If life begins at 40, what is it that ends at 39? This rhetorical twister could sum up this navel-gazing film by Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf. Only, the film uses it as an entry into further soul-searching.
Sitting behind a dashboard dripping with wax from dozens of candles, Jan, a man celebrating his 40th birthday, calls his four girlfriends one by one and asks them to come to a dance school at 2 pm.
A curious collision follows when the four women meet for the first time. Jan, played with a dreamy countenance by real-life musician Daler Nazarov, wants to know the very heart of love and gives us flashbacks into how romance budded with each of them. He gifts each of them a stopwatch to count the time they feel heart-racing passion from then on. Not surprisingly, the women part not too happily.
Later, the fourth girlfriend - who looks closest in age to the grey-haired Jan - invites him to dinner. Jan finds her other three boyfriends there. The red wash omnipresent in the first part is replaced by a grim brownness; but the dry leaves, indicating passion's withering, are still around. The men react aggressively. Jan still doesn't get his answers.
Makhmalbaf, also the film's writer and editor, drops several heavy-hearted questions - such as 'Why do men want to possess the bodies of the women they love?' - without answering or dodging them convincingly. But he wins over with his non-linear narrative.
Not to be watched with pop-corn; maybe with some dry red wine.