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December 02, 2007

Iranian Cinema - Two Views

iran a cinemagraphic revolution.jpg
Haji Agha: Cinema Actor (Avenes Ohanian - 1932)

Iran: A Cimemagraphic Revolution/Iran: Une Revolution Cinematographique
Nader T. Homayoun - 2006
Red Envelope Entertainment Region 1 DVD

Iranian Cinema: A Political History
Hamid Reza Sadr - 2006
I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd.

It was my Zionist mother who first encouraged me to look at films from Iran. The film in question was Gabbeh which was screened in Jerusalem. I've been keeping up with most of the major releases since then and have also made efforts to see past films currently available on DVD. It may be no surprise that my favorite Iranian filmmaker is Mohsen Makhmalbaf.

While Iranian films from the 90s on are relatively easy to see, on DVD if not in theaters, the earlier films are much rarer. Sadr's book and Homayoun's film do not give a complete picture of the history of Iranian Cinema, but to a limited extent they do compliment each other in providing a basic overview of the films and conditions under which those films were made. Sadr provides most of the substance regarding film and political history which in turn make Homayoun's excerpts from the various films more meaningful.

iran a cinemagraphic revolution 2.jpg
Anxiety (Samuel Khachikian - 1962)

Especially interesting in the clips chosen by Homayoun are excerpts from films made between 1969 and 1974. Made at the same time the first major wave of film school graduates were making their first films in the U.S., there is the sense that many of the films of Iran's "New Wave" are part of a treasure trove in need of rediscovery. Parallel to Western cinema is the commonality of taking the camera to the streets, and making films that in some way challenge the status quo.

In addition to Makhmalbaf, Homayoun also has interviews with Jafar Pahahi and Bahman Ghobadi, as well as some of the older Iranian filmmakers. What emerges is the sense that making films in Iran is a continuous struggle, and virtually a revolutionary act, no matter who is in charge of the government.

Sadr also conveys the frustration that is shared by some of the filmmakers regarding the difficulty they have had making films, as well as the imbalances between the Shah's dictatorship and an Islamic theocracy. While I assume that the Persian names are all correct, Sadr would have benefitted from a proof reader who would have caught the errors regarding "Nancy Sawkaw", "Warington Hodlin" and "Richard Penia" (Nancy Savoca, Warrington Hudlin, and Richard Pena).

If neither the film nor the book is perfect, my own feeling is that they provide a basis for a deeper understanding of Iranian film as it is currently made, and a glimpse into Iran before the revolution.

iran a cinemagraphic revolution 3.jpg
Under the Skin of the Night (Feridun Goleh - 1974)

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at December 2, 2007 12:31 AM