Posts Tagged ‘Iranian indie’

The Poetic Trilogy (1996-2012)

Mohsen Makhmalbaf is one of its shining lights of Iranian cinema lauded by critics and cineastes alike on the international film circuit and at home. His Poetic Trilogy is a collection of three of the writer-director’s most lyrical, imaginative works:


Dir.: Mohsen Makhmalbaf; Cast: Shaghayeh Djodat, Abbas Sayah, Hossein Moharami, Rogleih Moharami, Parvanah Ghalandari; Iran/France 1996, 75 min.


Dir.: Mohsen Makhmalbaf; Cast: Tahmineh Normatova, Nadareh Abdelahyeva, Goibibi Ziadolaheva, Araz M. Shirmohamadi; Iran/Tajikistan/France 1998, 76 min.


Dir.: Mohsen Makhmalbaf; Cast: Ririva Eona Mabi, Paula Asadi, Bal Kumar Gurung, Maysam Makhmalbaf, Mohsen Makhmalbaf; South Korea/Israel/Iran/UK 2012; 87 min,  

Director/writer Mohsen Makhmalbaf (*1957) went to prison at the age of seventeen, protesting against the regime of the Shah of Persia by knifing a policeman. After serving five years of his life sentence, he was freed in the aftermath of the Iranian Islamic Revolution, and his first four films are one-dimensional propaganda features. But his growing criticism of the Islamic authorities led finally to his exile in 2005. He has since lived in Afghanistan, Tajikistan, India and Paris, before settling finally in London. His three children Samira, Hana and Meysam are all filmmakers in their own right.

This ‘Poetic Trilogy’ consisting of three features shot between 1996 and 2012, could be called lyrical journeys, very much in the manner of Sergei Paradjanow’s The Colour of Pomegranates. The emphasis is on the visual, and GABBEH starts with an exploration of the colourful titular carpet, floating downstream. The carpet depicts a couple riding a horse, and whilst the owner of the carpet, elderly couple (Hossein and Rogleih Moharami) fight over their past, recounting their romantic miss-adventures, the girl in the picture, also called Gabbeh (Djodat), springs to live, to tell her story. Living with Nomads, Gabbeh is looking forward to marry her beloved for a long time. But her repressive father always invents new reasons to postpone the marriage: her uncle (Ghalandari) is used as a reason for the father to stall. First Gabbeh has to wait for the uncle’s return from a trip, than he has to find a wife for himself – somebody who will sing near a river “like a canary”. But Gabbeh tires of seeing her future husband only as a shadow on the horizon, and she will have to make a decision.

Filmed in a small town in Tajikistan, SILENCE tells the story of ten-year old Khorshid (Normatova), who is blind, but earns a living as a tuner of musical instruments, to support his mother. His master always threatens him with dismissal, since the young boy gets obsessed with the four opening notes of Beethoven’s Fifth, which keeps him distracted. A young woman (Abdelahyeva) acts as his eyes, selling bread and fruit near the river. She wears cherries instead of earrings and flower petals instead of nail varnish. In one scene, she becomes very nervous, when a soldier looks like he wants to arrest a woman, who is not adequately covered. SILENCE is a symphony of images (DoP Ebrahim Ghafori) and sounds, a magic and sensual journey into the world of a special childhood.

In THE GARDENER, not quite a documentary, but more a travelogue about the role of religion, Mohsen senior and his son Meysam visit the magnificent Gardens of the Baha’i faith headquarters in Haifa. The Baha’I religion has about six million followers world wide, but in Iran, its members are persecuted and often imprisoned. Makhmalbaf sen. interviews one of the volunteers tending the garden, Ririva Eona Mabi from Papua New Guinea, to learn more about the Baha’I faith. Afterwards son and father split up: Whilst Mohsen will play the role of the defender of religion and faith, Meysam will prove the destructive force of every organised religion. He travels to Jerusalem, where he films Israeli citizens praying at certain parts of the West Wall where the equally important Al-Asqua Mosque is literally a stone’s throw away. Meysam concludes quite rationally that religion has been exposed and damaged beyond repair by groups such as the Taliban. Meanwhile his father finds enough bystanders only too happy to discuss the positive aspects of religious faith. In the end Mohsen and Eona Mabi “mirror their hearts”, carrying big mirrors which reflect the red of the flowers surrounding them, before listening to the waves crashing down on a stormy beach nearby.  

The trilogy is a feast of colours and ideas directed by a filmmaker who has paid the price for expressing his vision of tolerance, framed in images of splendour and beauty. AS

The newly restored Blu-ray release of Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s The Poetic Trilogy? Out 27th August from Arrow Academy. 


Khook | The Pig (2018)*** | Berlinale 2018

Dir/Writer: Mani Haghighi | Cast: Hassan Majooni, Leila Hatami, Leili Rashidi | Comedy | Iran

Narcissism is rife in the creative world and Iranian filmmaker Mani Haghighi (A Dragon Arrives) mines its funny side in this surreal screwball satire. The Pig’s Telenovela-ish style and garish visual aesthetic may not appeal to everyone, and some of the arcane humour may just go over Western viewers’ heads in sending up the Iranian middle classes who spend their days on the tennis court or channel their artistic energy into louche fancy dress parties (styled here by designer Negar Nemati’s in vibrant pinks and reds), hamstrung by the government’s strict censorship controls.

In downtown Tehran a serial killer is on the loose, but he doesn’t pick any old victim – the heads he decapitates belong to famous film directors, and black-listed helmer Hasan Kasmai (Hasan Majuni) is furious that he’s still alive, and despite his mother’s assurances that he deserves to die on account of his brilliance, Hasan remains petulant at being ignored especially as one of victims is Rakshan Bani-Etemad, who has championed women’s issues and bravely challenged the censorship code.

Haghigi’s political piece – which he also produced – sees Iran as a matriarchal society where men are adored and cosseted, particularly by their mothers and wives, who have the last word. Hasan is really just a grouchy Grufalo whose bedroom is cluttered with rock posters and man toys and whose affair with Shiva (a gently humorous Leila Hatami) is doomed to fail due his inactivity film-wise. Despite its flaws and rather unsatisfactory ending, The Pig is a brave attempt to send up Iranian politics and poke affectionate fun at ego-driven artists without offending. It will either win your heart or do you head in. MT


Night Shift (2015) | Warsaw Film Festival 2015

Director: Niki Karimi  | Writers: Niki Karimi, Ali Asghari

Cast: Leyla Zareh, Mohammad Reza, Amir Hossein Arman

96 mins  | Drama  | Iran

For middle-class Tehrani housewife Nahid (Leyla Zareh), nothing is what it seems. Asked by her GP—a personal friend—to pay a visit, Nahid’s first concern is understandably for her own health, but when it turns out that it’s her husband Farzad (Mohammad Reza Foroutan) for whom she should worry, her hitherto comfortable existence begins to unravel. Farzad, who works with Nahid’s friend’s own husband, has been acting strangely of late: despondent, adrift, and even suicidal. “I wish all of us would die,” he’s purported to have said, and has also invested in a gun with which to resolve his predicament. This is all news to Nahid, for whom there’s been scant trace of domestic discontentment—and it’s only the first of many mysteries to engulf her life. Discoveries of rat repellent, firearms, redundancy, loansharks and decapitated pet rabbits soon follow.

NIGHT SHIFT is the fifth feature-length work by Iranian filmmaker Niki Karimi. Best known in her homeland as the award-winning star of films such as SARA (1992), THE HIDDEN HALF (2000) and TWO WOMEN (2007), Karimi here confronts the pan-social, transglobal financial crisis through the local prism of a drama set in the petty bourgeois echelons of present-day Tehran. The film won awards for its script (co-written by Karimi with Ali Asghari) and direction at Iran’s Fajr Film Festival, prior to screening in competition at the 31st Warsaw Film Festival.

Karimi opens her film with a point-of-view shot of Farzad arriving home late one evening. From whose perspective we’re watching Farzad remains unclear, though off-screen voices imply gossipy voyeurism, as two unseen characters speculate about his recent behaviour. Though there’s no way for the anonymous spies to follow Farzad into his own apartment, Karimi continues the handheld aesthetic established in this first scene into subsequent sequences, instilling a kind of shorthand jittery tension upon domestic interiors that is offset by a piano and strings score that could be lifted verbatim from an old suspense film.

Indeed, NIGHT SHIFT’s increasingly melodramatic edge, which entails Nahid following her husband around Tehran like James Stewart does Kim Novak in VERTIGO, risks bloating initial mysteries into risible fluff. Karimi manages to keep a lid on things for the most part, though it’s difficult to say whether this is due to directorial restraint or the limitations of her performers. Zareh plays Nahid like a lost waif on the one hand and a resourceful detective on the other, though there are several instances where her acting is suspect. One such scene involves her hiding in her own wardrobe to elude suspicion from Farzad, as the latter hides a pellet-rifle atop the kitchen units; another sees her cornered by Rahim (Amir Aghaei), a cartoonishly bald-but-bearded loanshark who charms Zareh with threats and a smashed vase. In both scenes, Zareh plays to camera rather than the moment.

But NIGHT SHIFT’s real disappointment is how underworked Farzad’s characterisation is. No one can doubt Karimi and Asghari’s sincerity as scriptwriters here, but to sketch Nahid’s husband as an unflinchingly gloomy mope is both counterintuitive and too easy. The more rewarding challenge would have been to take his starting premise—that he’s lost his job as an accountant, and the implications this has on his personal pride and monetary situation—and to see him attempt to uphold the façade of happiness for the sake of loved ones despite an increasingly antagonistic system dragging him further into paucity.

But Foroutan plays Farzad like a man who not only doesn’t give a damn whether his obviously weird behaviour is noticed, but whose continued attractiveness for a trusting wife stretches the plausibility of the central drama. (“You can be so close to the dearest person in your life,” Nahid says with a twinkly lament, “yet so distant.”) Much of this might be down to Foroutan’s own shortcomings as an actor, but his performance isn’t helped by some harsh, ugly top- and side-lighting by cinematographer Alireza Baranzandeh, which illuminates the actor’s face in such a way as to expose the fact that he’s clearly caked in makeup, and makes his crocodile tears, in the one scene where Farzad finally opens up to Nahid, glisten rather distractingly indeed. MICHAEL PATTISON


A Minor Leap Down | Berlinale 2015 | Panorama

Director: Hamed Rajabi

So it seems Jafar Panahi won’t be the only subversive Iranian voice to be heard at the Berlinale this year. Apparently slipping through the cracks of that country’s strict cultural ministry comes a debut feature of great wit and defiance. Hamed Rajabi’s Paridan az Ertefa Kam Ukhra (A MINOR LEAP DOWN)  follows the trials of an Iranian woman who, upon losing her unborn child, decides that she’s just not gonna take it anymore.

We meet Nahal in the waiting room of her gynaecologist as she receives the tragic news. In normal circumstances it should hit her like a tonne of bricks, but under the veil of her social etiquette, as well as Negar Javaherian’s deadpan performance, it’s really quite difficult to tell. Nahal sheds some tears but decides not to tell. The established forces in her life- doctors, husband, family- keep asking what’s wrong; pushing Nahal to take her meds and enjoy her life. You might expect the director to indulge in some cinematic moping from here, but it’s not tragedy that the horrid situation brews, it’s defiance.

Nahal goes on a relatively mad spree. She splashes out on her husband’s credit card; she writes off his car; and, in the film’s most audacious scene, she invites friends and family for juice… She’s like Iran’s mild mannered answer to Michael Douglas in Falling Down (it might even be a reference in the title?).

Like Paul Schrader’s ‘one man in a room’ theory, the viewer is privy to absolutely nothing the lead character doesn’t see, so we walk the entirety of the film in her modestly heeled shoes, and we quickly get inside her head. You can just feel the frustration of an indifferent, dust coated society and revel as Nahal raises two fingers towards it.

The film also seems to look at a cultural changing of the guard. Nahal is a woman stuck on the tail end of her generation and her tragedy seems to sever the connection with that past. Her younger sister represents a new age in the country. Her clothes are bright and chic; her friends are cosmopolitan; chilling in a trendy Tehran cafe. It’s a scene we seldom see in Iranian cinema. The group pokes fun at the old fashioned way Nahal carries herself, despite there only being a few years between them. At one point our hero retreats to the cafe’s kitchen to make a cup of tea. She finds a young handsome employee and enjoys a charming, flirtatious chat. He shows her a kitten he’s been hiding in a shoebox under the stove. It’s tiny, beautiful and oblivious to the world. Nahal’s eyes immediately widen.

Javaherian ends his terrific film on a choice for Nahal, between conformity and independence; the old world and the new. We’re left wondering how many other woman might be making that choice as we sit there in our seats. It’s great stuff, great cinema. The empathy machine humming away on an 88 minute cycle. Rory O’Connor


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