Hassan Yektapanah, the former assistant director to Abbas Kiarostami, makes his directorial debut with a film that resembles his mentor's work. Djomeh concerns a 20-year-old Afghani refugee (Jalil Nazari as the title character) living and working in Iran as a dairy-farm laborer. Although the Iranians look upon the foreigner with suspicion, the farm's owner, Mr. Mahmoud (Mahmoud Behraznia), takes a liking to his young employee. On their drive each morning to their various customers, Djomeh confesses to Mr. Mahmoud about his forbidden romance with an older married woman back in his homeland and about his current ardor for the daughter of a local shopkeeper in his new country.
Djomeh's skeptical guardian and co-worker, Habib (Rashid Akbari), advises Djomeh not to pursue the shopkeeper's daughter, Setareh (Mahbobeh Kalili), but Djomeh decides to ask Mr. Mahmoud to help him propose marriage, since open courtship is strictly verboten. Mr. Mahmoud reluctantly agrees, but the results of his efforts leave Djomeh less of a romantic idealist.
If you like the understated tone and style of Kiarostami's films (Under the Olive Trees, The Taste of Cherry), you'll probably like Djomeh. The film features the same sort of clash of cultures; rounded, sympathetic working-class characters, and light critique of Old World customs. The romantic plot of unrequited love (based in part on Yektapanah's own experiences) recalls the similar dynamic between Hossein and Tahereh in Olive Trees, although the new Cyrano de Bergerac angle could have been more fully developed.
Djomeh also employs a familiar look and sound, attempting a neorealist approach with tableaux shots (Ali Loghmani's cinematography deservedly won an award at last year's Cannes Film Festival) and only natural noises (no heartrending music, thank you!).
But if you've seen Kiarostami's films or any of the other acclaimed works from the new Iranian cinema (The Jar, The White Balloon), Djomeh may seem all too familiar. The simple story and approach promote a why-can't-we-get-along humanism, which is admirable but not very intriguing. At least Kiarostami's better films feature a wry tone, a burgeoning feminist streak, and a self reflexive style that adds an extra layer of meaning. Djomeh, on the other hand, is much more elemental. It is a minor effort, satisfying only on its own limited terms.