San Francisco used to be a magnet for all kinds of dreamers — Midwestern misfits, on-the-road explorers, Beat poets and percussionists, Haight-inspired hippies, utopian commune-ists, Irish emigrés, Latin American refugees, experimental artists and gay men and women of every persuasion and denomination. In Radio Dreams, the renowned Iranian author Hamid Royani (played by the gifted singer-songwriter Mohsen Namjoo) has followed the beaten path to our rather unwelcoming burg, where he is programming director of the no-frills Iranian radio station PARS. Catering to an audience of similarly alienated and semi-assimilated listeners, the protagonist of Babak Jalali’s mournfully comic independent feature is a soulful artist in a world of crass commercialism and blank-eyed apathy.
Radio Dreams, which played the 2016 S.F. International Film Festival and begins its theatrical run at the Roxie this Friday, May 19 with several of the actors and producers on hand, spans a day in Hamid’s life of surreal frustration. It begins with the rainy SFO arrival of Kabul Dreams, a hard-rock trio who’ve have made the long trek to the West to jam in PARS’ studio with their musical heroes Metallica. Another movie would milk every bit of suspense en route to a will-they-or-won’t-they-meet climax, but that would be untrue to the state of suspended animation in which Hamid and his semi-catatonic staff exist. (A Farsi cover of Dylan’s You Ain’t Going Nowhere would have been an appropriate addition to the soundtrack, although too on the nose.)
Radio Dreams delivers moments of catharsis but the prevailing mood of persistence is expressed in the Kabul Dreams lyric, “We move towards fate/We move towards peace.” It is Hamid’s fate to be on his own with no direction home, stuck inside of Frisco with the Tehran blues again.