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Matthew Rankin Channels Iranian Cinema

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Within the Canadian cities of Montreal and Winnipeg, a futile stress exists between French and English audio system — doubly foolish, for the reason that nation is formally bilingual. In his gently satirical “Universal Language,” writer-director Matthew Rankin imagines a quite fanciful resolution, the place Farsi is now the area’s dominant tongue. Taking his cues from such Iranian classics as “Children of Heaven” and “The White Balloon,” Rankin mixes the humanism of Majid Majidi, Jafar Panahi, et al. together with his personal peculiar model of comedy (as seen within the extra off-the-wall “The Twentieth Century”), providing a pleasant cross-cultural hybrid designed to have a good time our variations.

Although Rankin reveals a real affection for all issues Persian, the primary and most blatant hiccup to his premise is that audiences don’t essentially share his curiosity or his references. There’s one thing inherently provocative — and even perhaps triggering to some — about seeing a nondescript Canadian elementary college the place the constructing’s identify is written in Arabic script and a portrait of Métis chief (and Manitoba founder) Louis Riel hangs the place the Queen as soon as did. Has the nation been invaded? Is a few type of “Civil War”-style upheaval afoot?

No, commencing à la “Borat” (with its faux-Kazakh title playing cards), this absurdist comedy’s opening dedication reads “in the name of Friendship.” As soon as Rankin has pushed previous any knee-jerk xenophobia, and audiences begin to acknowledge a couple of recurring characters, it’s a cinch to embrace the movie’s endearing younger ensemble (principally college students from the aforementioned classroom, going about varied extracurricular pursuits). Whereas heading to santoor classes, Negin (Rojina Esmaeili) and Nazgol (Saba Vahedyousefi) uncover a 500 Riel invoice frozen within the ice. “We can buy so many socks!” exclaims Nazgol. So off they go to fetch an ax from the close by turkey seller.

Talking of turkeys, one in all their classmates, Omid (Sobhan Javadi), wants new glasses, ever since a wild hen stole his final pair. When Omid grows up, he desires to be a tour information, a job at the moment held by a person named Massoud (Pirouz Nemati), who leads small teams on strolling excursions of dreary Winnipeg websites (an overpass right here, a forgotten briefcase there). Rankin makes the town look downright dreary, filling the body with beige brick partitions, multi-story parking constructions and concrete so far as the attention can see — backdrops that recall the areas in “Playtime,” minus Jacques Tati’s charitable really feel for contemporary structure (vintage-looking promoting posters and parody TV spots are a pleasant contact).

The image of Canada that Rankin places forth in “Universal Language” appears unlikely to persuade anybody to maneuver to Manitoba. His tackle Quebec is even much less engaging, confined largely to a authorities workplace the place a gluttonous bureaucrat (Danielle Fichaud in drag) devours a tray of turkey and approves a personality named Mathieu Rankin’s switch again to Winnipeg. Rankin performs “himself” right here, sharing the bus trip dwelling with a disgruntled grade-school trainer (Mani Soleymanlou) and (what else?) a extremely coveted reside turkey. In contrast with these characters, the Iranian forged is downright well mannered, respectfully referring to their elders as “agha.”

Visually, DP Isabelle Stachtchenko’s blocky framing model bears extra of a resemblance to Wes Anderson films than something out of Iran. (A retailer that sells nothing however Kleenex and a scene set at a defunct shopping center could be proper at dwelling in one in all Anderson’s options. Or Roy Andersson’s, for that matter.) And but, if Rankin counts Abbas Kiarostami amongst his influences, this undertaking proves he’s prepared for his “Close-Up.” That’s clearly the film Rankin had in thoughts when he wrote himself into the script, concocting a surreal third act wherein he trades locations with a Persian character. Higher that than the man who runs round dressed as a Christmas tree.

Rankin could have conceived “Universal Language” within the spirit of homage, however there’s one thing undeniably unique in regards to the finish consequence. Don’t be stunned if that interprets right into a modest cult following and extra artistic concepts sooner or later.

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