Iranian CinemaIranian Cinema
Posted 14 January 2004 - 10:26 PM
I just went back and rewatched parts of The Color Of Paradise tonight, and I can definitely see where some people would find it cloying and overly sentimental (such as the scenes with Mohammad and his sisters, where they're chasing butterflies or feeding the chickens in slow-motion backed by Yanni-esque music). But I still find it to be an incredibly beautiful and moving film full of poetic imagery, and a very eye-opening film as well. I can't wait to see what other treasures Iran has in store for me!
Posted 15 January 2004 - 09:56 AM
Posted 15 January 2004 - 12:29 PM
Pop culture has its function, but it's not the whole story, especially in terms of the artistic life of any given region.
I think you'll adore Close-Up, BTW...save this space!
Posted 15 January 2004 - 02:44 PM
: I caught Baran at the CIFF a few years back and actually remember
: being refreshed that I was not being bombarded by cultural dialogue, but
: rather a simple narrative emerging from a cultural/political situation far
: removed from my own. As a film, it worked well.
Good point. In a way, it can be even more instructive to see films that take certain cultural situations for granted, rather than films that assume everything is up for debate. This is one of the reasons I and a couple friends make a point of seeing the occasional 'urban' (i.e. African-American) film that makes its way to Vancouver. At times it really IS like watching a foreign film. (Mind you, watching jingoistic trailers for films like Miracle and The Alamo really reminds you that all American films are, strictly speaking, foreign films, too.)
: I guess I am trying to make the argument (and I can't believe me of all
: people is attempting to make this argument, Cassavetes is rolling in his
: grave) that intentionally commercial production doesn't automatically
: preclude a film from being an important cultural document. If anything
: Le Cercle Rouge is a clearer "French" statement than anything Godard
: did that decade. Some of Majidi's films may have the same sort of social
: value as some of Melville's films.
Doug C wrote:
: I have no intention of diminishing anyone's enjoyment of Majidi, but if
: people wanted to learn about, say, American cinema and were initially
: discussing Ron Howard, I'm sure plenty of us wouldn't hesitate to provide
: more ambitious examples.
Also well put.
: (The same would be true if "Indian cinema" became "Bollywood" rather
: than, say, Satyajit Ray or Ritwik Ghatak.)
How well I remember my love of Santosh Sivan's engaging political thriller The Terrorist, and how well I remember the shock I felt upon seeing that director's next film, Asoka, and discovering that it was a standard-issue three-hour song-and-dance Bollywood flick!
Posted 15 January 2004 - 03:29 PM
Opus, I'm glad to read that you're planning to watch both of those films--they are major works I've seen multiple times. Do let us know what you think of them.
BTW, The Wind Will Carry Us is part of the new "Hidden God" series at MoMA--here is their excerpt from a new essay by Godfrey Cheshire:
Bad ma ra khahad bord (The Wind Will Carry Us). 1999.
Iran/France. Written and directed by Abbas Kiarostami. With Behzad Dourani, Noghre Asadi.
Godfrey Cheshire writes that “Kiarostami is often at his most serious when he appears to be at his most jokey…what’s most hidden in the film is also what’s most crucial: an idea of God that belongs specifically to Iranian esoteric thought.” Courtesy New Yorker Films. In Farsi, English subtitles. 118 min.
Posted 15 January 2004 - 04:13 PM
|if people wanted to learn about, say, American cinema and were initially discussing Ron Howard, I'm sure plenty of us wouldn't hesitate to provide more ambitious examples.|
But if they were discussing Steven Speilberg, you'd say, "Excellent choice. He represents the very best of American cinema," right? Highly personal, and at the same time very commercial.
That would be (gasp!) correct, but it would drive some people crazy -- people who can't stand overtly commercial films, and who think Speilberg is nothing more than sentimental pap. People who can't fathom how commercial films could also represent intensely personal statements, or who, maybe, just don't find the personal statements to be all that deep, or worthwhile.
Those people, I would contend, are the crowd who admire Iranian cinema that is more interested in making political statements than in telling stories. I, for one, refuse to put one type of film above the other.
Posted 15 January 2004 - 04:23 PM
|The Wind Will Carry Us is part of the new \"Hidden God\" series at MoMA--here is their excerpt from a new essay by Godfrey Cheshire:|
I'm always a little embarrassed to post full reviews in this forum, but I particularly like the review I wrote for this film. It also gets at why people like Doug and I often de-emphasize Majidi in favor of Iranian directors like Kiarostami and Panahi. It's not that I don't appreciate Majidi (I like Baran quite a bit), but that's not what people mean when they refer to the Iranian New Wave.
Anyway, here's what I wrote about The Wind Will Carry Us. I also have reviews of Close Up, Homework, ABC Africa, Ten, and other Iranian films up at the Tollbooth site. Sorry for the shameless plug, but I'm probably proudest of my Kiarostami reviews, of all the reviews I've written.
by J. Robert Parks
A car slowly traverses a winding road. Someone in the car leans out to ask for directions. A young boy frets over his schoolwork. Two friends walk through a gorgeous river grove. An old woman lies on her deathbed, attended to by family and neighbors. People talk, people share, people wait. Through it all, a camera stands discreetly in the distance, watching.
These narrative moments are familiar tropes in the work of Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami. From films like Where is the Friend's House? and Through the Olive Trees to his Cannes-winning Taste of Cherry, Kiarostami has used these recurring images to reflect and amplify our shared humanity, to explore the mysteries of life and beauty, and to contemplate the nature of death. His movies, which often take place in his country's mountain villages, offer small glimpses of people's lives and yet open up the vast panorama of the human condition.
The Wind Will Carry Us, Kiarostami's latest film, is another subtle meditation on these themes. A man, consistently referred to as "the engineer," drives from Tehran to a remote village. Accompanying him are his "crew," two faceless men whom we'll only hear from but never see. Not quite sure of where they're going, they meet a young boy who gives them directions. Their mission is somewhat mysterious; "if anyone asks, say we're looking for treasure," the engineer jokes with the boy.
In the village, the three proceed to wait. Their purpose has something to do with an old woman who's dying. Whether they're there to help her or pay their last respects or something entirely different is unclear. The crew spend most of their time eating strawberries, while the engineer flirts with the local women, attempts to find fresh milk, and takes calls on his cell phone.
This last activity requires the man to leave the village for higher ground. Each time, we see his car maneuver up the dusty and sharply-curved road to the top of the hill, the site of the village's graveyard. There, he meets a local ditch digger, another character we hear but never see.
If the storyline sounds somewhat simple and oblique, that too is a trait common to Kiarostami's films. In Where is the Friend's House?, Kiarostami's first major feature, the plot centered almost exclusively on a young boy trying to deliver a homework assignment to a friend. And Life Goes On, the second in a trilogy that ended with Through the Olives Trees, dealt with someone trying to locate an acquaintance after a devastating earthquake. Taste of Cherry was the account of an old man trying to find someone willing to bury him. Unlike in those films, the protagonist of The Wind Will Carry Us finds his object in the movie's first scene, but this initial discovery only leads to more uncertainty--the "trying" shifts to a different locus.
The narrative has never been the focal point in any of Kiarostami's films, however--a fact that certainly has much to do with his lack of popular success in the U.S. Instead, the story is merely a frame for his larger concerns: how do we see? what can we see? what are we truly looking for? and what will we do when we find it?
The aspect of seeing is especially important in The Wind Will Carry Us. Kiarostami's evocative and sometimes arresting camera placements cause us to consider our own perspective. His fondness for extreme long shots, particularly of cars set against the countryside, provoke us to ponder our significance in light of the beauty of creation. And how beautiful it is in this movie! The flowing grain in the fields, the trees growing by the peaceful brook, even the dust of the mountains shimmer and testify to nature's grandeur.
The camera, though, is not just a recorder of splendor; it also acts as a mirror (literally, in one fantastic scene) reflecting humanity's common bonds. The engineer, though he has little in common with the people he's talking to (he's sophisticated and worldly, they're humble peasant folk), is able to transcend those differences. He does so primarily by quoting poems, sayings, and stories that he learned as a child. Often, the person he's speaking with will join him midway through the recitation, and they'll finish together. Now they understand each other; now their differences are stripped away.
This moment of communion occurs in other Kiarostami films as well. The end of Through the Olive Trees is a wonderful long take of a boy suddenly realizing his beloved wants him to follow her. The conclusion of Close Up finds our protagonist riding on the back of his hero's motorcycle, grabbing the latter's waist and discussing their shared love of film. And the closing shot in Taste of Cherry is an otherwise odd video of Kiarostami himself and his film crew jovially resting on a hillside, a moment that takes on great resonance when you consider this theme of communion.
But the camera isn't always a unifying force. Sometimes it emphasizes the vast distance that separates us. Other times the camera itself comes between and divides, as in one scene when the engineer attempts to surreptitiously photograph an assembly. Culture and shared stories can bring people together, but those same forces can highlight what we don't understand about each other.
The same will be true of The Wind Will Carry Us. For many Americans, its unfamiliar formal aspects, its lack of a traditional narrative structure, and even its director's nationality will be enough to discourage them from grasping the film's message and beauty. For others, however, the common stories of nature, waiting, and death will be the bridge across the cultural divide.
Posted 15 January 2004 - 05:14 PM
: I admired The Terrorist, too, but since its characters' national origins/sources
: of conflict were undefined, I felt that it became more abstracted (though
: beautifully filmed) and less political. What did you think?
This almost warrants a thread of its own, but I don't think I ever actually reviewed this film, as such, and my memory of it has grown dim, so I don't have much to say -- but at any rate, I almost called it a "psycho-political thriller" just now, but I shaved off the prefix because it seemed to me the film was more about the clash between the embracing of life (as reflected in the main character's pregnancy and in the sensuous looks and sounds captured by the film) and the embracing of death (as reflected in the fact that the main character is a would-be suicide bomber), rather than about any particular psychological process going on in the main character's mind. But at any rate, yeah, the film is not about specific political movements, as such (even though it was inspired by the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, IIRC), so perhaps even "political thriller" isn't the best way to describe it. It IS a somewhat abstract film, but I don't mind a bit of abstraction now and then.
FWIW, just to appear remotely on-topic, I believe the last Persian film I saw was At Five in the Afternoon, which I saw at the local film festival and commented on here. But for whatever it's worth, the last one I recall really liking was Secret Ballot, which, as the title suggests, definitely has political overtones. Oh, and looking at that thread on the old message board, I discover I made this comment:
BTW, when I rented this video, the woman at the counter looked it over and said, "This isn't the best Persian film. Here's one that you might want to see," and then she wrote "BARAN" on the receipt. I said that I had already seen Baran, and I said that I liked it, and she replied that she was "Persian" herself and didn't want Secret Ballot to give me the wrong impression of "Persian films".Interesting, in light of this discussion, no?
Posted 15 January 2004 - 06:03 PM
Incidentally there's a very good US independent film made by an Iranian-American, Ramin Serri, called Maryam (2000) that's very much worth seeing. (I think Stef saw it and liked it, too.) It's about an Iranian-American high schooler living in New Jersey in '79 during the Islamic Revolution, who must contend with the resulting cultural tensions in her family and the local racism in its wake. The drama is painted in broad strokes, making it ideal fare for thoughtful teenagers, but I think it could also be quite moving and informative for adults, too.
Posted 15 January 2004 - 06:50 PM
|Those people, I would contend, are the crowd who admire Iranian cinema that is more interested in making political statements than in telling stories. I, for one, refuse to put one type of film above the other.|
Well I refuse to distinguish between the two types to begin with. But I appreciate what you're saying, Christian, however I do think a work that challenges or changes society has more "worth" in significant ways than one which simply emotionally diverts society. Not that the latter is worthless, just not as "important" in the long run. The fact is, the critical process inherently involves assigning values to films and ranking them in some fashion, by some criterion, and this is definitely one of my own.
I also think people should embrace and promote artists who are suppressed--which is one reason Panahi's JFK arrest and Kiarostami's visa problems in the US were so unfortunate.
As far as Spielberg is concerned, I personally wouldn't say he's the best at all, largely for reasons I've just stated in this post. Even his "message" pictures tend to package his subjects into easily-digestible morsels of polished, feel-good filmmaking for mass consumption. His bid at making a challenging art film, AI: Artificial Intelligence, met with great anger and scorn by a lot of people (myself included). I do enjoy many of his films, but do I think he's the most important US filmmaker to offer up for discussion? Not at all.
I'm looking forward to reading your review, JRobert...
Posted 15 January 2004 - 11:12 PM
You've really brought out the mystery and humanity that's locked inside Kiarostami's challenging aesthetic choices. One of the techniques I find so astonishing in this film is the fact that so many characters throughout the movie are never seen--not characters outside the immediate narrative, but specific characters within the scenes themselves who interact and talk with the protagonist. We just never see them. When you write about the importance of human connection in Kiarostami's works, I think of how wildly brilliant this formal decision was and how integral it is to the themes of the film.
"Unlike in those films, the protagonist of The Wind Will Carry Us finds his object in the movie's first scene, but this initial discovery only leads to more uncertainty--the "trying" shifts to a different locus."
Very interesting comparison. Again, there's almost the sense that the film represents the archetypical Search for people and meaning that are in some ways right under the protagonist's (and the viewer's) nose... but somehow hidden away.
(P.S. The French DVD by MK2 looks better than the New Yorker DVD and includes a "cinema lesson" by Kiarostami as well as a feature-length documentary about the making of the film.)
Posted 16 January 2004 - 12:36 PM
: Wow, that's an interesting statement on her part. I can't guess why she
: might've had an aversion to the film given that it addresses the
: underrepresented democratic movement within contemporary Iran,
: unless she's a conservative, which would explain her embrace of Baran
: but wouldn't explain why she'd be working at a video store in Canada.
I don't think we have to assume anything about her politics, per se -- the reason she promoted Baran over Secret Ballot could be as simple as the fact that, like we've been saying here, Baran is a more commercial, accessible, sentimental film whereas Secret Ballot is a more slow-moving, challenging, issues-oriented kind of film.
Posted 16 January 2004 - 12:53 PM
Posted 16 January 2004 - 01:32 PM
Posted 16 January 2004 - 01:56 PM
This is a great paragraph J. Robert. 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.
At least in Haneke's estimation :wink:
BUT, this does not mean that film cannot serve a valuable socio-political function in both clarifying and identifying what the real issues are. I did like Baran so much because here is an area rife with social and political conflict and the director chooses to focus on what...a love story...? Well, it turns out that love stories are important too.
The idea of film being able to elicit "communion" from previously disparate social or political groups is an intriguing one. I guess now I can see that point really lurking behind Close-Up in every detail.
Posted 16 January 2004 - 02:59 PM
|The idea of film being able to elicit \"communion\" from previously disparate social or political groups is an intriguing one. I guess now I can see that point really lurking behind Close-Up in every detail.|
Posted 17 January 2004 - 03:16 PM
So, would I like fries with my Bajidi? Yes, please. But even if I've only just started to dip my toes into Iranian cinema, the dip was quite refreshing.
Posted 17 January 2004 - 03:40 PM
Posted 17 January 2004 - 04:53 PM
I have to say I've enjoyed the Majidi films I have seen, as they were my introduction to Iranian cinema. Having seen them, I am more than interested in checking out other directors and films from the region.
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.
On another, more general level, I've felt the Iranian films I've seen have given me a glimpse into the necessity of treating people with the respect and dignity they deserve. They've also allowed me to appreciate more fully the simple pleasures of life, and not be so caught up with the extraneous junk that so often muddles things up for me. These have been pretty important things for me, and I think those Iranian films I have seen have been instrumental in helping me to reflect on a lot of that.
As for other films outside of Majidi, I've seen White Balloon and The Circle and loved them both. I've seen the recommendations above and will take them to heart. I'm thinking about Taste of Cherry next, though if you who are more experienced think I should start somewhere else, I'd be grateful for the suggestions.
Also tagged with one or more of these keywords: Iranian Cinema
The Arts →
The Arts →
The Arts →
The Arts →
The Arts →