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Iranian Cinema

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#41 Christian

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Posted 17 January 2004 - 06:44 PM

That's gratifying to hear, Diane. Glad you enjoyed Children of Heaven.

QUOTE
Life and Nothing More (1992) is a fictionalized account of a filmmaker who travels to the child's village after a real-life 1990 earthquake devastated it, as he then searches for the child actors who played in the earlier film.


Just picked this up at the library! Unfortunately, the other films in the trilogy aren't available there. I hope it won't hurt to watch the second without having seen the other two.

#42 Doug C

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Posted 18 January 2004 - 01:48 AM

Excellent comments John. I can totally appreciate the messages you've been gleaning from Iranian films; they sound inspired.

I actually wouldn't suggest starting with Taste of Cherry, though, because in some ways it's a bit dark for Kiarostami. The Wind Will Carry Us is available on DVD, too, and it might be a better intro.

And I'm glad you found that film, Christian. I don't think it will hurt to see the earthquake trilogy out-of-order at all.

I also want to affirm that I think you summarized the "Majidi issue" well in this thread when you said his films are very accessible and, as John concurs, can serve as a welcoming introduction to more challenging Iranian filmmakers. I do hope I haven't been too dismissive of his work and especially your response to it.

FWIW, I didn't make it to UCLA's screening of Crimson Gold tonight because I see that it opens in L.A. in another week or two, but I do hope to catch some of the Iranian animation tomorrow afternoon...I'll post a report if I do.

#43 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 18 January 2004 - 12:14 PM

Doug C wrote:
: I actually wouldn't suggest starting with Taste of Cherry, though,
: because in some ways it's a bit dark for Kiarostami.

FWIW, I think this was the first Kiarostami-directed film I ever saw, and I remember liking it quite a bit. I have this strange idea that the only other film he directed that I have seen is Ten, which is also about people driving around and discussing weighty issues, but I could be misremembering something. I do know I saw another film that I believe he wrote, about a boy who has to fix a window at school -- such a simple premise, but wow, what an experience, following him through this Sisyphean task -- but I think someone else directed it.

As for introductions to Iranian film, I think for me it was probably Makhmalbaf's Gabbeh -- that was back when I was editing the culture section at the student newspaper and I was just beginning to gobble up just about any film the distributors threw my way; shortly after this, the Cinematheque had a comprehensive retrospective of Makhmalbaf's films, so I caught a few more there. Or I might have seen The White Balloon shortly before all that, when it played the second-run theatres. Anyway, I just find it amusing that so many people seem to have discovered Iranian film through a movie that I still haven't seen, or a director that I'm only barely familiar with. smile.gif

: . . . I do hope to catch some of the Iranian animation . . .

!! As an animation buff, I am definitely interested in this.

#44 Christian

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Posted 18 January 2004 - 03:02 PM

QUOTE
I also want to affirm that I think you summarized the \"Majidi issue\" well in this thread when you said his films are very accessible and, as John concurs, can serve as a welcoming introduction to more challenging Iranian filmmakers.  I do hope I haven't been too dismissive of his work and especially your response to it.


Nah, it was me, if anyone, who was dismissive of you and others. Sorry. I know Majidi isn't considered the most profound of Iranian filmmakers, but I simply wanted Diane to check out "Children of Heaven" without bringing a lot of baggage to the viewing. Her knowing that Majidi might be lighter fare than other filmmakers wouldn't ruin the film, but I figured that was for her to discover down the road. Still, I shouldn't have been sarcastic, which only serves to cut off deeper discussion.

But now that Diane has seen "Children of Heaven," fire away!

I started "Life and Nothing More" this morning but was able to watch only a few minutes of it. I'll have to finish it later this week.

#45 John

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Posted 18 January 2004 - 04:34 PM

Thanks for the suggestion Doug. I'll put Taste of Cherry on the back-burner for now, and plan to track down The Wind Will Carry Us. And I'd be thrilled to hear your report on Iranian animation, if you get to it.

#46 Doug C

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Posted 18 January 2004 - 07:06 PM

Well, I just returned from the animation series, and all of the pieces were produced by Iran's Center for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults. These weren't art films, but definitely geared towards children with a Sesame Street-style abstracted, parable quality to them. They didn't have any dialogue and the children in attendance seemed to enjoy them a great deal.


Sweet Story (1995, 14 min.) This was dedicated to the memory of the children of Bosnia. It presented a story about a simple woodcutter who saves a crane and is rewarded with gold. At first, he dreams of being a king, but then decides it would be better to give his money to the village, going door-to-door. An evil man later shoots the crane and then "saves" it, but instead of getting gold, he gets a swarm of angry bees.

The animation is stop-motion papercuts, with the characters in black silhouette and naturalistic sounds. The landscapes have a nice minimalist design to them.


Rainbow Fish (1996, 12 min.) is a tale about an inter-species community of fish who travel through the ocean together and help each other escape from evil residents like the squid, the eel, and the sea anemone.

It was animated using a variety of colorful cloths and fabrics, and photographed frame by frame. The backgrounds were cool--made of sheets, various ripples were carefully animated to simulate ocean currents. Full of interesting textures and materials.


Lili, Lili, Little Pool (1992, 16 min.) Beginning with a traditional Persian rug depicting a variety of animals, this film tells a story of a newly-hatched chick, who falls into a pond and the efforts of its parents to save it. They run around to various animals and chirp madly to no avail, until a wise goat helps them by ringing his magical bell and touching the hearts of all the animals. A turtle donates its shell, a worm stands up in the shell and a butterfly rides the worm, creating a makeshift sailboat which saves the chick, suspended in the water by fish.

The animation is drawn in the traditional style of the art on the rug, with vigorous Persian music throughout.


Companion (1994, 16 min.) This is a claymation piece about two nomads who are trying to live in the desert: one slowly but steadily builds a house on a good foundation while the other man lazes about and hurriedly slaps something together. When the rains come, you know what happens. Afterward, the man with the solid foundation invites the other to help him, and soon they are both living in a mansion.

The claymation is simplistic but inventive and photographed with care, and natural sounds augment the visuals well.


Returning (1987, 18 min.) This is animated line drawings with figures similar in form and movement to Mickey Mouse. A man discovers some diamonds by digging into the ground, and the story conveys various ways in which he becomes greedy, thus ruining his project or killing himself Wile E. Coyote-style.


Overall, I was struck with the simplicity of the settings and stories, and their thematic emphasis on things like community-building and wariness toward riches. All in all, fun stuff.

#47 jrobert

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Posted 20 January 2004 - 02:12 AM

QUOTE
One would think that this is what would happen in the "noble savage" narrative of Time of the Wolf, but actually quite the opposite happens. Once the veneer of difference is stripped away (which the camera mirrors to us), the social structure disintegrates anyway. I found Time of the Wolf to be such a commentary on the idea that simply seeing each other clearly and simply will be enough to compel the world to give itself a big hug. It is quite the opposite, this world needs intercession and redemption.


Exactly right, Mike. I can't get over that last reel of Time of the Wolf, and comparing it to Kiarostami's notion of communion brings up so many interesting and provocative ideas. They almost demand someone write an article. I nominate either Leary or Doug C. Mike H can jump in if he'd like.

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I guess now I can see that point really lurking behind Close-Up in every detail.


Yes. To truly appreciate Kiarostami, you almost have to see all or at least most of his major works. They genuinely influence and comment upon each other.

QUOTE
Particularly at times like these in the last few years, I've felt Majidi's films, and the few others I've seen, have on a very basic level humanized the Middle East for me. They have allowed me a glimpse into that world, beyond the angry gun-toting mobs I often see on the news around here. I've been able to see that there are just regular people over there, going to work, making sure the kids have the clothes they need, and struggling with all those obstacles that life brings. I've appreciated that deeply.


This was exactly what attracted me to Iranian cinema (and especially Kiarostami) in the first place. I vividly remember my first experience was when I saw Close Up and Homework back to back in the mid-'90s. I went because I had heard Kiarostami was a major figure, but I didn't know anything else. Honestly, it wasn't Close Up that sold me; it was Homework. I couldn't get over how much these 7-8-year-old boys were just like the kids I tutored. It was a mind-opening experience. I didn't really "get" Close Up until I saw it at Cornerstone, under Mike H's tutelage.

QUOTE
Thanks for the suggestion Doug. I'll put Taste of Cherry on the back-burner for now, and plan to track down The Wind Will Carry Us.


I agree with Doug that Taste of Cherry isn't the best place to start. It can be a tough go for some folk. The Wind Will Carry Us is easier but still pretty oblique. If you can find a copy of Where is the Friend's House? or Life and Nothing More, those are much more accessible and give just as good an introduction to Kiarostami's work. Btw, I would say not to see Through the Olive Trees first, but you can't even find that on video. Miramax bastards! Doug, is that out in Europe or Asia?

Strangely, another good intro to Iranian cinema is Michael Winterbottom's In this World whenever that becomes available on video.

Thanks for all the insights, folks. This is a fun discussion to jump into.

J Robert

#48 John

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Posted 20 January 2004 - 09:40 AM

Thanks so much for the suggestions jrobert. I'll see about those titles too. I need to go make a thorough catalogue of the Farsi section of my video store. I'm just glad they have a Farsi section. biggrin.gif

#49 Christian

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Posted 20 January 2004 - 11:01 AM

I don't want to derail the thread, but this post was instigated by my viewing of "Life and Nothing More," so I'm raising the issue here.

What's with the subtitles in this, and other foreign films? Why are some of them so awful? I'm not talking about the translation itself -- I don't speak Farsi, or whatever language "Life" uses, so I wouldn't pick up on that. What I'm referring to are typos every other line, words capitalized as if they're proper nouns when they're not.

I guess my question boils down to this: Does the Iranian distributor subtitle the film before it's released internationally, or is that the responsibility of the U.S. distributor? I'm guessing it's the former, but I know that subtitles on foreign films ("Andrei Rublev" comes to mind) often are updated (in the case of "Rublev," I believe Janus did the re-subtitling, but I'm not sure if it was related to a theatrical revival or was just for video).

Lots of questions buried here. Which countries/companies are responsible for the subtitling, and why don't they hire copy-editors?

Related story: When I interned with Circle Releasing Corp. in 1989, one of the make-work projects they had me do was proofread a new set of subtitles for John Woo's "The Killer" against a previous set, just to make sure no chunks of dialogue had been inadvertently omitted. In that case, I'm not sure who was responsible for the new subtitles, but I do know they were reviewed by at least two of the distributor's employees ahead of the film's U.S. theatrical release.

#50 Doug C

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Posted 20 January 2004 - 11:24 AM

Yeah JRobert, Through the Olive Trees is available on PAL VHS in the UK, but you can sometimes find dubs on ebay. It's also available on VCD from Asia, I believe, but the quality isn't supposed to be very good.

And I know exactly what you mean by the poor subtitles, Christian! I think it's up to the US distributor (Criterion almost always does a complete re-translation for each of their releases--two in the case of Throne of Blood). As much as I appreciate Facets as an institution, the videos they distribute on their label (like Life and Nothing More) are often not very well produced, in terms of image quality or subtitles. I wouldn't let that stop you from watching the movies, but they could use some improvement.

#51 Diane

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Posted 20 January 2004 - 02:58 PM

Particularly at times like these in the last few years, I've felt Majidi's films, and the few others I've seen, have on a very basic level humanized the Middle East for me. They have allowed me a glimpse into that world, beyond the angry gun-toting mobs I often see on the news around here. I've been able to see that there are just regular people over there, going to work, making sure the kids have the clothes they need, and struggling with all those obstacles that life brings. I've appreciated that deeply.



I also want to second these comments, John. Majidi's films have done this for me, too.

So, thanks for letting me tag along on this thread. I will definitely keep up with this discussion and, hopefully, catch some of the other films you've all mentioned.

It's funny—I had sort of clocked out of this thread and had no idea that you guys were still discussing whether or not Children of Heaven was worthy viewing, apart from all the inital fast-food metaphors, that is. Glad that's all squared away.

Come on, big Iranian cinema group hug, everybody. smile.gif

Diane

#52 Darrel Manson

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Posted 06 February 2004 - 08:29 PM

OK, somebody fess up. I've been looking through posts to see who gave the impression that Crimson Gold would be wonderful. I gave it a 2.5/5 on my film journal. Slow, characters that don't evoke much identification, situations you don't understand. Did I mention slow?

#53 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 07 February 2004 - 12:55 AM

Darrel Manson wrote:
: OK, somebody fess up. I've been looking through posts to see who gave
: the impression that Crimson Gold would be wonderful.

I'm guessing someone referred to the fact that it was one of Jonathan Rosenbaum's two favorite films of the year (the other being Spike Lee's 25th Hour).

#54 wyoming

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Posted 07 February 2004 - 03:46 PM

Just wanted to give a hello, as I'm new to the promontory scene. And, I'd like to also say that Majid is without a doubt one the most gifted of contemporary filmmmakers. Thank God for artist's like this who can eclipse the majority of American drivel.

#55 Overstreet

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Posted 08 February 2004 - 08:20 PM

FWIW, Darrel, you and Movieguide agree on Crimson Gold.

#56 Persona

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Posted 08 February 2004 - 09:32 PM

QUOTE
Darrel Manson wrote:
: OK, somebody fess up. I've been looking through posts to see who gave
: the impression that Crimson Gold would be wonderful.

I'm guessing someone referred to the fact that it was one of Jonathan Rosenbaum's two favorite films of the year (the other being Spike Lee's 25th Hour).


Yeah, that was one reason, plus Amy Taubin of Film Comment called it Fassbinder-like, and described the first scene as "the most indelible scene of Cannes." Plus it's a Panahi/Kiarostami combo, so i just took it for a winner (yes, that was me getting stoked about it on an earlier thread). Finally, in the same issue of Film Comment, of the six international critics who saw the film, four gave it 3/4 stars and two gave it 2/4. That's not bad for Film Comment critics.

I haven't yet seen a Panahi or a Kiarostami, but i've heard both names talked about with a sense of awe.

-s.

#57 Darrel Manson

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Posted 09 February 2004 - 12:06 AM

QUOTE
FWIW, Darrel, you and Movieguide agree on Crimson Gold.
Does this mean I'm out of PFCC?

#58 mike_h

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Posted 16 February 2004 - 01:21 PM

I've been watching some Kiarostami films in preparation for the screening of Close Up this week. I watched The Wind Will Carry Us for the first time and saw it suddenly shoot to the upper echelons of my All Time Favorites list, always a pleasure when that happens. This was one of those films that made me think, That's it. I don't need to look for movies anymore, I just need to watch this one again and again. I only wish I could see this projected from celluloid, it's a film to get lost in: incredibly beautiful images, lingered over, intentionally, with a theme that touches upon the notion of slowing down, on lingering on beauty vs speeding through life and missing everything. I wasn't sure if my reaction to this film depended on having seen a few Kiarostami films and becoming at least a bit acclimated to his particular grammar and rhythm. Thus I was curious as to what my response would be to the "Earthquake trilogy" films I'd been somewhat mystified/underwhelmed with upon first viewing a couple years ago. Back then, these had been my first non-Majidi Iranian films, and I think a little more preparation would have been in order. But a couple years down the road, after having seen lots of Iranian film, including films by Kiarostami's disciples, and falling in love with both Kiarostami's Homework and of course Close-Up, I am happy to say I really did finally connect with these films (the first two of three -- alas, Facets doesn't have the third), and I'm wondering how blind I could have possibly been the first time through. I guess that's why Kiarostami is so important. His vision genuinely involves expanding the vision of the viewer. His films (when I finally have gotten them!) have produced that unsettling yet exhilarating sense of aesthetic?/emotional?/spiritual? vertigo: as you realize what you thought were the solid walls of reality were really more constructed than you like to think, more flexible than you would have realized. I like that feeling. Too much at once may be too much for me, but a little at a time has been revelatory.

#59 Christian

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Posted 17 February 2004 - 06:30 AM

QUOTE
Thus I was curious as to what my response would be to the \"Earthquake trilogy\" films I'd been somewhat mystified/underwhelmed with upon first viewing a couple years ago.  Back then, these had been my first non-Majidi Iranian films, and I think a little more preparation would have been in order.  But a couple years down the road, after having seen lots of Iranian film, including films by Kiarostami's disciples, and falling in love with both Kiarostami's Homework and of course Close-Up, I am happy to say I really did finally connect with these films.


So there's hope for me yet, eh? I watched "Life and Nothing But" a few weeks ago, and of the three Kiarostami films I've seen, it's by far my least favorite. Don't get me wrong -- I didn't hate the movie -- but it struck me that the driving around motif, which Kiarostami used to great effect (IMHO) in "Taste of Cherry," advanced the story for about half the film's running time before the whole thing ran out of gas (so to speak). "Taste of Cherry," which Doug (and you too, Mike?) has often warned Kiarostami newcomers against watching until they've seen more accessible films, I found fascinating, even profound, when I watched it as my first Kiarostami film. Existential, you might say, whereas "Life and Nothing But," although it deals with literal life and death issues, didn't really engage me. Maybe I missed the point. I wish I had more to say about "Life and Nothing But."

#60 mike_h

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Posted 17 February 2004 - 08:41 AM

Yeah, I know just what you mean. I think if I had to give my own title to a couple of these films after I first saw them it would be "Driving Around... And Nothing More." And I got stuck on proofreading the subtitles, too. That's what struck me about my experience this time: neither the driving around, which I dreaded, nor the subtitles, bothered me at all. Since I understood going into the film that the narrative, or the What Happens Next, was really not as primary in these films as I'm used to having it be, I was a little more relaxed. And suddenly I understood THAT was the point. There was a bit of dialogue in The Wind Will Carry Us that really got my attention (I should have written it down): some busy person was complaining basically about how idleness was the worst possible sin, and clearly missing everything important that was happening around them -- and I realized the director was making one of those Key Thematic Points. It was almost preachy for a Kiarostami film, but then again, I always need that particular sermon.

So watching Life... And Nothing More with a state of mind which idleness was not necessarily a bad thing, I lost interest in the driving and started paying attention to the view, and to the relationship between the father and son. The differences between the ways they saw the world. Every line the father had to say almost was drowned out by a subtext of "grown-up" worry, distractedness. And his son was doing like kids do, living in the moment, missing the larger significance of everything. I don't think the director was telling us to shut our brains down and be like the little child -- there was serious stuff going on, a terrible earthquake had just happened. But I do think he wanted us to consider the differences in the ways of seeing, and I get the idea (from this film and others) that even Kiarostami himself gets distracted from life by the business of living. Hence this film is about a film director, as is The Wind Will Carry Us (television in that case.) Remember the scene where the boy is playing with the grasshopper, and his father yells at him about all the diseases bugs carry or something like that. There's the difference. I realized in my previous experience with this film, I had been the father, scolding the director for not having a strong enough narrative when all he wanted me to do was marvel at how cool it looked when a car was driving slowly up that zig-zagging mountain road. And I missed that.

There was lots of stuff in here also about Real versus Fiction, a pet conflict for this particular director. The notion that there was a fictional movie director (playing Kiarostami, actually) meeting real actors involved in a film Kiarostami had made, and a real earthquake, and a fictional story set within the rubble of that real earthquake, make for the clash of truth and make-believe that he loves to set in motion without necessarily resolving too neatly into particulars. Though I do think he is always asking himself, of the two ways of seeing -- the busy grown up POV versus the childlike wonder -- which one is real and which one is make believe? Something worth considering in the shadow of death, a point underscored here by the earthquake, in The Wind Will Carry Us by that leg bone somebody digs up and the main character carries around. At times the contrast between perspectives matches exactly that between Mary and Martha: one is always worried about many things, the other always has an eye out for the most important thing.

Anyway. I still haven't revisited Taste of Cherry since I dismissed it as a driving around movie (you're already ahead of me on that one, Christian.) And I am a little nervous about finally tackling Ten. But I do see how I'm supposed to look at these films, I think, or where I have room to grow. And I've seen some growth is possible, and that makes me wonder how much I'm missing. So I want to keep at it, and encourage anybody else who's working at this to hang in there with this director who seems more amazing to me as I go.





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