Movie Review: Transient Happiness

Screened at El Gouna Film Festival 2023

One-liner: While short-lived and misframed, this remains an authentic, bittersweet, colourful, gentle and warm marriage portrait.

Transient Happiness is a drama from director and producer, Sina Muhammed, which explores love in later life by way of a picturesque marriage portrait. Set in a remote village in Kurdistan, the film centres on an elderly couple whose relationship has become distant with time. They get caught up in the act of getting by with their daily routine rather than finding the time to truly connect. Discussing the cool distance with others in the vicinity, the woman tries to take stock of their seemingly numb new chapter. When she takes ill, a restorative motorbike journey to the hospital transforms her perspective on their marriage with far-reaching consequences.

Starring Saleh Bari and Parwin Rajabi, Transient Happiness pursues authenticity to the point of revealing it isn’t a documentary with a whimsical introduction where the actors explain who they’ll be playing in the film. A quirky and unconventional opening, which hints at a comedic undertone with the arrival of an ambiguous aircraft overhead, what follows is much more grounded and heartfelt. Muhammed wanted to underline just how real this movie really is, having made a great effort to prepare for the filming it. Unfortunately, it’s more awkward than informative… playing an open hand when Transient Happiness would’ve been stronger if it had kept retained the mystique of its already undeniable documentary edge.

The thoughtful title and fourth-wall-breaking introduction could misconstrue this bittersweet drama, giving the impression that it’s more humourous and self-referential than it really is. Taking this lens piques curiousity but also undermines the story’s integrity in the process, subverting the relative anonymity of its actors in favour of unabashed honesty. Luckily to Mouhammed’s credit, the film’s pacing and slow cinema vibrations gently immerse audiences back into the world of this husband and wife so effectively that the framing soon evaporates. Having built this lived experience from the ground up and based the film on biographical moments rather than curated dialogue, it has time to breathe.

A long shot of their modest home makes it seem like Transient Happiness could have been a stage production. The drama moves at the speed of life, showing a day-in-the-life as a committed married couple go about their daily chores. Interacting with other locals and working the livestock and land, there’s an earthy and pastoral tranquility to these slow-moving and tranquil scenes. The pacing gradually picks up as the heart of the story emerges with husband and wife sharing more scenes together. A gentle sense of humour emerges as the husband’s offhanded and insensitive comments urge his wife to focus on the work at hand rather than daydreaming. Trying to rekindle some intimacy and re-establish their connection, she feels the burden of cultural norms and societal expectations.

transient happiness movie

“Less misery, more mystery.”

Taking place against a colourful and beautiful natural landscape, the ever-present threat of war around them keeps them alert. News reports relay the devastation as death counts and property destruction disrupts their slow and otherwise peaceful lives. An unassuming and understated delight, Transient Happiness has a warmth and naturalistic flow from its performances to its cinematography by Xaibar Rafiq. Beautiful textures and photographic composition give the visuals their own homegrown flavour. While the tasks of hanging clothes and milking goats is fairly mundane, there are some scenes that are extrasensory to the point you expect to be able to smell them.

Capturing small moments of joy and sorrow, Transient Happiness lives up to its title as the ageing married couple find a common goal and discover newfound intimacy over the course of a motorbike trip. This authentic drama has a relatively short running time, checking in at just over 65 minutes. While fleeting in this sense, it still feels lived, having the time to invest in the arrival of a lamb. A simple and heartfelt story that builds to a transformative moment of realisation, the slow build and short running time does end on a note where it seems like it’s only getting started. A thoughtful and touching send off, it remains enjoyable and fulfills the promise of its title.

The bottom line: Vivid

splingometer 6