Film Iroony

The recent success of an Iranian film in the prestigious Cannes festival along with the fact that summer is a great time to catch some flicks gives me a good excuse to write this as a general overview of the status of Iranian films. The destructive role that the so called "Film Farsi" has played in this industry for many years and how it has tarnished its image, partially explains the negative attitudes of the general public towards this subject. I hope I can alter some of the pessimism by examining this issue from a different angle (or even a different camera!)

Film is a relatively new industry in Iran and had to be imported due to its technological requirements. Historiccally in our culture, the main emphasis has been placed on literature and not on "Visual Arts". This has made us a "visually weak" culture, along with other philosophy-literature oriented cultures such as Germans. Our films have therefore not had a significant impact on a global scale. Even some of our best movies seem "low budget" and "slow" when compared to not only the major Hollywood productions, but also those produced by smaller independent studios. With all of their shortcomings, many Iranian movies have been recognized and rewarded generously in international festivals. Some of our filmmakers are well respected in the world of cinema. Abbas Kiarostemi, in addition to his recent success with "Taama Gealas", was chosen as one of the judges in the Cannes Film Festival a few years ago. Many others have been awarded various prizes. There are different reasons explaining the phenomenon that most of these filmmakers have been recognized by the film community outside of the country before they were noticed in Iran. Some of the foreign film critics have always looked at our films digging for some subliminal socio-political message. Considering the political atmosphere in Iran and the restrictions imposed by the ruling systems, such symbolism and metaphoric gestures have been abundant. A different category of critics have been fascinated by the traditional rituals and folklore (clothings, architecture, exotic scenery, etc.) portrayed in some of our films. Finally there are those who believe in "film-as-an-art" theory and their anti-Hollywood and non-conformist attitude has created a much-needed supportive atmosphere for non-traditional filmmakers. These elements along with the shear creativity and ingenious of some of our filmmakers have been instrumental in the recognition of more than a handful of Iranian films in the past thirty years.

I believe that there are few clear distinctions between films made before and after the revolution. The continuity in the industry is evident by many pre revolution filmmakers that are still producing films. Censorship(ideological, bureaucratic, and self-imposed) now exist as they had before. Commercialism present in older films in forms of sex scenes (known as Abghooshty) and phony fights (Bazan Baza Va Chaghoo Kashy) are now manifested in different shapes in cheap action movies, war films, and drug related stories. Of course, the most pronounced change between the two periods is the way women are being portrayed. Physically, the appearance of women in current Iranian films is artificial and distracting. Avoidance of romantic scenes all together, covering women all the time, and creating unrealistic episodes where couples (husbands and wives of course) relate their emotions so mechanically that hurts the credibility of the story, are all among common problems. On the other hand, some of the social dilemmas faced by Iranian women are now being discussed for the first time in this medium. I don't recall such issues ever been brought up even by good pre-revolution films. The main character in Nargas (directed by a woman and shown in LA festival a few years ago) is a woman who has to deal with her ex-lover (normally a taboo subject) marrying someone else. In Bashoo, even though the story centers on a little boy, it is the strength of the woman that gives the story its thrust. This is a vast improvement for a gender that used to be portrayed as voiceless wives and girlfriends at its best, if not as sex objects. Analyzing whether this phenomenon is intentional or accidental or is occurring in films only as a release mechanism requires a lengthy discussion outside the scope of cinema.

As an Iranian living abroad, watching a good Iranian film has always been a very pleasant experience for me, for all the closeness I feel to the story, the atmosphere and the subjects. Needless to say, watching a bad Iranian film is more disturbing than watching a bad film period! Accessibility to good Iranian films is less of a problem if you live outside Iran! Most old movies are available in Iranian grocery stores along with some of the newer ones. In most metropolitan areas (New York, LA, Houston, San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle, etc.), there are film festivals that occasionally screen good Iranian flicks. Every week the Aftaab Network has a half an hour segment on an Iranian film. All of Aftaab's showings are post-revolution films but apparently not all the filmmakers are given a chance for their works to be viewed. If you need some help selecting some good films, the following "totally-biased" list might help you:

Bahram Bayzayee  All of his films: Bashoo, Ragbar, Mosaferan, etc.
Daryush Mehrjoyee  Gaav, Poostchie, Hamoon
Abbas Kiarostemi  All of his films: Close UP, Khaneh Doost Kojast, etc.
Nasar Taghvayee  Aaramesh dar Hozoor Deegran (my favorite),Shahzadeh Ehtajab
Amir Naderi  Tangsear, Saz Dahany (currently making movies in New York)
Mohsan Makhmalbaaf  
Bicycle Run, Nasseraldin Shah Actor Cinema (Started making movies after 1979) ...  (If you already  have seen a lot of Iranian films, this is a  great movie that borrows scenes from different  films)
Parveez Kimiavie  P masle Pelicaan, Baaghe Sabgi
Masood Kimiaee  Gavaznha, Dash Akol


Hope this converts at least one of the many who refuse to see Iranian films.

Mahmud Javadi
June 1997