On Iran’s northern frontier with Turkmenistan, the land of ‘heartbreak and tractors’, first-time director Babak Jalali mines absurdist humour and quiet pathos from the immutable routines of a stranded group of men. Hassan, a Persian with Cokebottle glasses, whose only pal is his ever-present donkey, collects license plates and listens to a Francoise Hardy song over and over. His uncle runs a clothing store whose items never seem to fit his customers. A Turkmen minstrel (posing for a Tehrani photographer more interested in an exotic ideal than the real man in front of his camera) pines for the wife he lost 30 years ago. And Alam, a young Turkmen working on a chicken farm, devotes his free time to learning English so that he can run away with the Persian woman he loves, but has never talked to. Together, these characters go through the motions of living while preoccupied with escape. Against beautiful, deadpan tableaus and with a plaintive score, Jalali teases out the intense longing hidden behind his characters’ stoic expressions, crafting a humane and drolly charming first feature that leaves an indelible impression.