The Great Yawn (2024) Berlinale 2024

February 22nd, 2024
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Aliyar Rasti | Cast: Mohammad Aghebati, Amirhossein Hosseini, Saber Abar, Mahin Sadri, Mehrdad Ziaie Iran 2024 Farsi, Subtitles: English 93′ Colour World premiere | Debut film | Debut film

The motto “It’s always better to journey than to arrive” is possibly the best way to describe this engaging debut feature from Iranian filmmaker Aliyar Rasti who has made it into the Berlinale Encounters sidebar after critical acclaim with his award-winning short In Between.

Dark and deadpan humour is one of the main attractions of his offbeat road movie that sees two unlikely blokes thrown together on a difficult mission in the style of Martin Brest’s Midnight Run (1988). Although the outcome may leave some viewers perplexed, the darkly deadpan humour and gripping storyline with its valid human insight carries a low-key political message of the kind the Iranians do well. And this makes The Great Yawn compelling from the start. Visually too it’s a winner with an extraordinary, atmospheric sense of place captured creatively in Soroush Alizadeh’s inventive camerawork. Quite why this isn’t in the main competition line-up is as much of a mystery as the film itself. Perhaps the selection committee were as challenged as I was with the finale. 

After dreaming of a cave full of gold coins, Beitollah, a religious man, (Aghebati) sets up a series interviews to recruit a paid companion – preferably a loner with no religious scruples – to collect the ‘forbidden’ treasure from the cave, and so claim his half of the booty. Shoja (Hosseini), an un-prepossessing bearded type who claims ‘not to believe in anything’, is selected for the job. Absolutely skint, an amusing sequence sees him begging for a toothbrush, no one obliges.

So the two set off the next day as planned, Shoja with absolutely nothing but the clothes he stands in. The odyssey – that mirrors life and all its challenges – will take them to the farthest corners and central deserts of Iran on a arduous journey where they will sometimes come to understand one another, sometimes not, in their search for the right cave (aka ‘the universal truth’). They are continually dogged by a poor young boy on a motorbike who calls himself ‘the bastard’ but doesn’t understand how he got the name.

Shoja puts his absolute faith in Beitollah, who aids and abets him all the way in their joint mission. To get a bit of money they stay with a farmer and work in her paddy field. She tries to persuade Shoja to stay (everyone has left to work in the city), but he declines, committed to the task at hand. After various encounters they come across a Caravanserai where they stay the night. The inn’s owner decides to follow them on their search for ‘the great yawn’ aka Jacob’s cave, purportedly the location of their ‘holy grail’. Will they find the meaning of life – that’s for you to decide. Rasta’s film is all about trust, truth and human faith. It’s also highly enjoyable. @MeredithTaylor 




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