Radio Dreams, Immigrant Dreams, A Movie for Our Times

Radio Dreams
The plot of Radio Dreams is simple enough. A Farsi language radio station in San Francisco has made a booking coup, well beyond its normal range. They’re bringing the heavy metal band Metallica to jam with Kabul Dreams, an Afghani rock band.

The story turns on that single day as the hours extend on and Metallica does not show up.

It captures perfectly an immigrant community filled with hopes and constraints, and perhaps living more into the constraints.

But, Radio Dreams is also a comedy, if of the human comedy variety. It is a gentle film played out against the back drop of a pretty harsh world.

It portrays a wonderful cast of characters, giving most of them just enough time for us to feel genuine affection. It took me a little while to realize that Hamid Royani, the station’s director of programming is the protagonist, not the villain.

Royani is portrayed by Mohsen Namjoo, who has been called the “Iranian Bob Dylan,” and according to the New York Times, is “the most controversial, and certainly the most daring, figure in Persian music today.” He’s also a commanding film presence, not just because of his astonishing mane of grizzing grey hair. In a movie where everyone has a face, and I mean a face Namjoo’s Royani’s is as perfect and haunting as can be imagined.

The broadcast day begins with a reading of a dark poem by the Salvadoran poet Roque Dalton. As director of programming, Royani, who had been a renowned novelist in Iran, but now struggles on his much, much smaller stage, is determined that high culture drive the station and its programming.

Against this is the station owner’s daughter Maral, played to a delicious turn by Boshra Dastounezhad, who is determined the station will turn a profit, and that means advertising. All the adds are, of course, terribly cheesy. And so Royani and Moral are at war with each other.

The film also features Sullyman Qardash, Raby Adib, and Siddique Ahmed, as the real-life Afghani hard rock trio Kabul Dreams, as well as a wonderful last reel visit from Metallica’s Lars Ulrich.

Radio Dreams is writer director Babak Jalali’s second film. (The script here is co-written with Aida Ahadiany) His first film Frontier Blues, which takes place on the Iran-Turkmenistan border was a critical success. This second film was shot during production delays, apparently, of another film, Land, about a Lakota Sioux family. I think those constraints bleed into the film, in very successful ways.

Radio Dreams is the winner of numerous awards and is a New York Times Critic’s Pick.

Filmed in Farsi, with English subtitles, on location in San Francisco and the East Bay.

It runs one hour and thirty-three minutes.

Radio Dreams is going to be a little hard to find. But, it is worth going out of your way to see it. A lovely, lovely film.

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