The debut feature from the Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, “Dancing in the Dust” never received a proper release in the United States. Now, 20 years after it was first shown, it is surfacing in a remastered version on streaming platforms. Two of Farhadi’s subsequent features (“A Separation” and “The Salesman”) won the Oscar for what was then called the best foreign language film, and he has become a reliable, methodical specialist in a certain brand of domestic drama. In Farhadi films, right and wrong are never clear-cut, and the suspense is intertwined with mounting moral complexities.
The opening scenes of “Dancing in the Dust” find the filmmaker already operating in his signature mode. Nazar (Yousef Khodaparast) loves his wife, Reyhane (Baran Kosari), but salacious rumors about her mother — which Reyhane won’t confirm — lead him reluctantly to seek a divorce that neither wants. Reyhane won’t agree to forget her mother, and Nazar can’t disobey his parents, even if a divorce might ruin his wife’s life.
Regardless, Nazar doesn’t have the money he is supposed to pay her, and he has also defaulted on a loan for the marriage. To avoid arrest, he runs away, hiding in the van of a cantankerous snake catcher (Faramarz Gharibian), who sets upon him once they are in the desert. At this point, “Dancing in the Dust” becomes something less familiar from Farhadi, but familiar from other movies: a two-hander with temperamentally opposed men — one who won’t stop talking and one who rarely speaks — in a hostile environment where abandonment could mean death.
How the pair resolve their impasse does not offer any major surprises, but “Dancing in the Dust” shows Farhadi’s early confidence with using framing and cutting to create tension and parallels — skills that would serve him later.
Dancing in the Dust
Not rated. In Persian, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes. Rent or buy on most major platforms.