For a large part of the world Majid Majidi’s filmography begins with the disarmingly charming Children of Heaven (1997). But the Iranian auteur had already struck gold a year before the first Oscar nomination from Iran. The themes, style and idiosyncrasies that were to mesmerize the world in the years following Children of Heaven clearly show their roots in Pedar (1996) (aka Father).
The film kicks off with the image of Mehrollah (Hassan Sadeghi), a boy in his teens working in the city in the south of Iran, purchasing clothes and ornaments, possibly for his family. The sweat on his face and his crumpled currency clearly indicate the boy’s struggle for a living. At his Spartan room besides the shop, Mehrollah packs his stuff that includes a photograph of himself with a man, probably his father, and leaves the city the next day.
Mehrollah makes a long trip by bus and arrives at his village. He halts to freshen up at a stream nearby and in the process loses the photograph. He notices his friend Latif (Hossein Abedini, who will go on to become the protagonist of Majidi’s spectacular Baran (2001)), and plays a childish prank on him. Immediately following that, Latif informs Mehrollah that after he had gone to the city following his father’s death, his mother had married a policeman. Mehrollah is infuriated and hits Latif, indicating his straddling between the playfulness of childhood and the fits of adolescent anger.
He reaches the policeman’s house where his mother and sisters are staying and notices the policemen with them. He throws the gifts he had bought for them at the gates and leaves the place in frustration. Determined that the policeman had married his mother only by offering money for the treatment of his sister, he decides to teach the man a lesson.
The next day he returns to the house and throws his wad of money at the policeman’s face and asks him to leave his mother alone. The policeman, much too experienced with these kinds of reactions, is passive and asks Mehrollah to either get into the house or flee the place. In another futile attempt at retrieving his sisters, Mehrollah refurbishes the place where he is staying in and brings his sisters without the knowledge of his mother. After the policeman and his mother track him down, he is rebuked severely. Following a minor protest outside the policeman’s house that rainy night, Mehrollah falls sick, only to be helped by the policeman. The policeman brings Mehrollah to his house for care and leaves the house for a few days in the pretext of a mission, leaving Mehrollah and his mother to bond. It is now that we find that the policeman was a divorcee and had married Mehrollah’s mother out of true love for her and her kids.
After the few days of bout, Mehrollah decides to hit back big time. He pinches the policeman’s pistol and leaves the village by night along with Latif, after wooing the latter with the hopes of making tons of money. The policeman, now out of his patience limits, sets off on his bike in order to arrest the juvenile delinquents who have now reached the beach at the city (a la Truffaut’s The 400 Blows (1959)). The two friends play in the sandy waters at the beach, a scene reminiscent of Elem Klimov’s war epic Come and See (1985), suggesting that they are, after all, children.
The policeman manages to track them down, but not without a marathon of a run. He grabs hold of Mehrollah and cuffs him to his own wrists suggesting his realization that he has to bring his kid up the hard way. He also sends the weeping Latif off to the village on a bus. The rest of the film follows the policeman’s struggle to bring back Mehrollah back home both physically and emotionally. The pair travels through the scorched desert on foot following the breakdown of the bike and get lost. As they set off on an excruciating quest for water and civilization, Mehrollah realizes how the policeman has taken responsibility of his safety and survival. He learns that the policeman has married his mother for reasons beyond what he had thought.
The policeman collapses, unable to keep with the heat, but not before freeing Mehrollah asking him to carry on. Mehrollah, determined to save his companion, runs in search of water and finds a stream at a distance. He performs a mammoth task by dragging the unconscious policeman to the stream and collapses besides him on the water. In the final moment, as poetic and moving as all of Majidi’s later film endings, a photograph of the policeman with his “new family” floats towards Mehrollah. Mehrollah, who lost the photograph of his father in a stream early on, finds this photograph coming to him through a similar stream. Mehrollah has found a new father.
Majidi’s films, unlike his contemporaries’ Jafar Panahi and Bahman Ghobadi, do not intend to highlight the social ills prevalent in society of Iran and the discrimination of humans based on gender and ethnicity. Rather, they focus on the best parts of the country’s culture and flourish on them. They are deeply rooted on the family values and traditions of Iran, yet are universal in their themes.
Pedar is shot in the rural localities of Iran, a place that may look like a whole new world to the outsiders. However, the alienation stops there and one will be emotionally overwhelmed as the movie proceeds. The global themes of fatherhood, adolescence and emotional bonding through distress will remind every viewer how the world is so large yet so small.