If Iranian cinema has a home, it’s the automobile. Like Abbas Kiarostami’s Taste of Cherry and Ten, Jafar Panahi’s Tehran Taxi, Rakhshan Bani-Etemad’s Tales, Ali Ahmadzade’s Atomic Heart is a road movie without any particular destination in mind, drifting idly through Tehran’s twilight streets, through conversations about atomic mothers and dormant dictators.
But where those other films are situated in a distinctly Iranian milieu, Atomic Heart feels equally influenced by independent American filmmaking: specifically, Jim Jarmusch and David Lynch. The film’s first forty-ish minutes has a distinctly Jarmuschian hang-out vibe, drifting idly through middle-class malaise and soupy dreaminess. Conversations have that peculiar brand of casual ridiculousess familiar to anyone who’s stayed up too late talking with friends.
Around the midpoint, a car accident – and the arrival of a mysterious, well-dressed stranger (Mohammad Reza Golzar) – sends protagonists (Taraneh Alidoosti and Pegah Ahangarani) deeper into the dream-world, entering a dense, nightmarish smog.
I kind of wish that Ahmadzade has embraced this sort of narrative distortion further – it never fully embraces the surreal aesthetic it flirts with – but I suspect I’m missing a hefty chunk of the subtext. I’m still making my mind up, but Atomic Heart is definitely worth seeing for yourself.