The staff of radio station PARS-FM in Radio Dreams (Matson Films)

 Radio Dreams is a delightfully droll and deadpan meditation on exile and belonging that focuses on a small commercial Iranian radio station in San Francisco, PARS-FM. Program director Hamid (Iranian musician Mohsen Namjoo) runs the station with a firm hand and an eclectic artistic vision. He clashes constantly with the more pragmatic Maral (Boshra Dastournezhad), daughter of the station owner. The film exposes the workings of the radio station on a not-so-average day when the band Metallica is due to show up to jam with the Afghan rock band Kabul Dreams (played appropriately enough by the actual band).

Everyone is in a tizzy. Maral, seeing a financial gold mine, has suffused the day with more than the average amount of commercials, which are, in themselves, brilliant parodies of assimilation and consumerism, such as the ad for Baba Jaan Pizza. As the day wears on and the likeliness of Metallica showing up at all is in doubt, tensions rise and Hamid Purells his hands more frequently.

Director Babak Jalali manages to take sly digs at assimilation and the lack of it without ever looking down or askance at his characters. He also manages to convey a deep melancholy for them, who are home far away from home. This particularly comes through with Hamid as Jalali focuses on the actor’s sad, basset hound eyes as he runs his tiny kingdom. Jalali’s style is a mash-up of Jim Jarmusch and Wes Anderson: characters speak in monotone, and there is nary a smile to be seen. The moment that Hamid finally raises his voice in anger, it’s like a slap in the face.

The film is shot in color, but the palette is fairly drab except for when Hamid enters the radio booth. It’s as if he is in the womb, and to an extent, for him, he is. Kudos should also be given to Dastournezhad, who more than slightly resembles the great Spanish actress Rossy de Palma. Maral needs to keep the radio station running with limited funds and a program director who sneers at the idea of interviewing the Miss Iran USA winner. In one bracing moment, Maral gives the reason she is working at the radio station and that simple statement gives depth to her and her predicament.

Radio Dreams is a lovely, lovely film. And if you think I’m going to tell you if Metallica does show up at the end, well, see for yourself.

Directed by Bb Babak Jalali
Written by Jalali and Aida Ahadiany
English and Farsi with English subtitles
Released by Matson Films
USA. 93 min. Not rated
With Mohsen Namjoo, Boshra Dastournezhad, and Kabul Dreams