An East Bay city receives its cinematic closeup this weekend — and it’s a worthy one.
In “Fremont,” a droll and perceptive indie dramedy directed and co-written with wit by Babak Jalali, insomniac Afghan immigrant Donya (first-time actor Anaita Wali Zada) seeks to carve out a more vibrant existence in the titular East Bay city while working at a San Francisco fortune cookie factory.
But the 22-year-old’s lack of sleep proves to be a big impediment, one that’s fueled by her feelings of being a stranger in a strange land as well as by dealing with her own past in her homeland.
Sleep deprivation leads the deadpan-direct Donya to try to get sleeping pills from a Jack London-obsessed psychiatrist (a hilarious Gregg Turkington), who doesn’t exactly know how to interpret what she’s feeling but does hit on something incisive about the immigrant experience via London’s classic, “White Fang.”
Jalali’s quirky Jim Jarmusch-like storytelling is a delight but requires that you fully surrender to it since the film refuses to conform to an obvious narrative trajectory — just like Jarmusch’s best. Case in point: When Donya replaces the unfortunate person who writes the fortunes at the cookie factory, she begins to express, in the fortunes, the absence she’s experiencing.
As the best films do, “Fremont” doesn’t overstate things and juggles humor with pain so it can relate the often lonely experience of being an immigrant.
Zada, who had never acted previously, gives an understated performance that speaks volumes in silence, while “The Bear’s” Jeremy Allen White adds his patented smoldering tenderness to a small but crucial role as a helpful mechanic she meets along the way.
Jalali — who also directed the Bay Area-set “Radio Dreams” — has crafted and polished a gem that radiates with many thematic prongs, set to striking black-and-white visuals by director of photography Laura Valladao — who’s from Fremont — who also evocatively replicates Donya’s sleepless state. Cameo fans: Watch for Oakland’s Boots Riley.
Note: Director Jalali and producer Sudnya Shroff will appear at several Bay Area “Fremont” screenings this weekend; including at the Roxie in San Francisco for the 6:45 p.m. Aug. 25 and 1:10 p.m. Aug. 26 screenings; at the Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael for the 7 p.m. Aug. 26 screening; and at the Cine Lounge Fremont 7 Cinemas in Fremont for the 4:40 p.m. Aug. 27 screening.
3½ stars out of 4
Rating: Not rated
Cast: Anaita Wali Zada, Gregg Turkington, Jeremy Allen White
Director: Babak Jalali
Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes
When & where: Opens Aug. 25 at Bay Area theaters, including the Roxie in San Francisco; Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael; and Cine Lounge Fremont 7 Cinemas, Fremont
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