Monday, August 21, 2017

Survival of the Unfit: On Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa’s Jerry & Me

Originally appeared on MUBI Notebook, June 2013. -- EK

Survival of the Unfit: On Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa’s Jerry & Me


A familiar practice in Persian film literature is that of the “cinematic memoir”—personal reminiscences of the film culture of pre-Revolutionary Iran.

Bolstered by a nostalgic tone, these autobiographical texts deal with the themes of childhood, adolescence and encounters with cinema in a Westernized Iran. The authors of such memoirs frequently depict Iran as a haven for cinephiles. Considering the number of films that were shown in pre-Revolutionary Iran and the diversity of their origins, this may be taken as an accurate characterization.

Such melancholic documentations of the past echo the feelings of a generation lost, misplaced and confused after the Revolution; people who are utterly unable to re-situate themselves in the new post-Revolutionary nation and after the trauma of an eight year war. However, this longing for a paradise lost can function as a kind of subjective history of film culture in Iran; while by studying them one would also be able to draw a picture of how Iran responded to Western culture in the period between 1950s and the late 1970s.

Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa, 1980s
Revolutions provide a clear point of reference for grasping the time and space in the nation’s psyche. History—otherwise obscure—becomes deceptively clear and classifiable. With a contemporary revolution written on the pages of a country’s history, everything becomes divided into two very distinctive and clashing modes of aesthetics: before the revolution and after the revolution. These are the terms most frequently used in a revolutionary country—more than “hello” and “goodbye”!

A Woman Under the Influence [On Jerry and Me]

زني تحت تأثير
دربارۀ «جري و من» مستند تازۀ مهرناز سعيدوفا
 كارگردان، فيلم‌نامه‌نويس، تدوين و گفتار متن: مهرناز سعيدوفا. 38 دقيقه، 2012، آمريكا. نمايش داده شده در فستيوال‌هاي ادينبورو (2012)، روتردام (2013) و گلاسگو (2013).
مجله‌هاي سينمايي ايران شايد تنها مجلات سينمايي باشند كه بخشي ثابت و محبوب براي چاپ خاطرات و نوشته‌هايي با زباني توام با حسرت و دريغ از گذشته دارند كه در قالب بهاريه‌ها و نامه‌نگاري‌ها ظاهر مي‌شود. اين آثار معمولاً براي كاركرد نوستالژيكشان منتشر مي‌شوند، اگرچه بعضاً مي‌توانند اعتباري هم به عنوان گونه‌اي از تاريخ شفاهي داشته باشند. اما وجه اشتراك تقريباً تمام اين نگاه‌هاي به گذشته، از چشم‌انداز سينما، حسي از غبن و شكست و گم‌گشتگي بهشتي ذهني است كه شايد هرگز وجود نداشته است. معمولاً تكيه به گذشته و تصوير بهشتي زميني در ذهن نويسنده‌اي كه آه و دريغ از گذر زمان دارد، نشانه‌اي است از عدم رضايت از زمان حال و به دنبال آن تلاش براي قرار دادن خود در نقطه‌اي كه وجود آدمي حسي از تعلق تاريخي داشته باشد. واضح است كه در شرايطي كه تنها يك زمان حال براي زندگي تعريف شده، حافظه تنها عنصري است كه اجازه دارد سفري آزاد به گذشته داشته باشد، بخش‌هايي از آن را برگزيند و گذشته آرمانيِ صاحبِ ذهن را رقم بزند. همۀ ما كمابيش چنين سفرهاي روزانه‌اي داريم، اما همۀ ما اين سفرها را مكتوب نمي‌كنيم و يا موضوع يك فيلم قرار نمي‌دهيم.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Strike [Zarbat] (Samuel Khachikian, 1964)

Bootimar (left) and Jalal in Zarbat

Iran, 1964, Director: Samuel Khachikian

International title: Strike. Script: Samuel Khachikian (uncredited). DoP.: Ghodratollah Ehsani. Editing: Samuel Khachikian. Art director: Hassan Paknejad, Ali Delpazir. Music.: Samuel Khachikian (selection). Cast: Arman (Jamal), Abdollah Bootimar (Dr. Kourosh Imen), Ghodsi Kashani (Shirin), Farzaneh Kazemi (Mozhgan), Jamsheed Tatar (Hossein Aghai), Reza Beik Imanverdi (Reza the Madman). Production.: Azhir Film Studio

The premiere of the film in Tehran

One of Khachikian’s most morbid thrillers, Zarbat actually begins as a melodrama – and a rather tedious one at that – in which most of Iranian cinema’s clichés of class conflict are introduced. Almost halfway into the film, however, Khachikian shifts to a meticulously designed spectacle of terror, as if in revenge for the preceding drama. Characters move into a dark territory of murder and mistaken identities. As in some of Khachikian’s other works, the setting of an ordinary house becomes a site of peril and a stage for perverse pleasures, as the director plays with filmic elements to the point of abstraction. Khachikian explains this as his attempt, after the 1950s, to “revive the alphabet of film” in Iranian cinema: “I wanted to save Iranian cinema from roohozi [a popular and vulgar form of theatre]. From the first day onwards, it wasn't the message or the content that I was concerned with. What I wanted was a precise cinema: action, correct editing, lighting and so on.”

Friday, June 23, 2017

Anxiety [Delhoreh] (Samuel Khachikian, 1962)

Bootimar in Anxiety [aka Horror]

Playing on June 24, 16:15 at Cine Jolly, Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna

Iran, 1962, Dir: Samuel Khachikian

Int. title.: Horror. Alt. title: Anxiety. Script.: Samuel Khachikian (uncredited). Cinematographer.: Ghodratollah Ehsani. Editing: Samuel Khachikian. Art director.: Hassan Paknejad. Music.: Samuel and Soorik Khachikian (selection). Cast.: Irene (Roshanak Niknejad), Abdollah Bootimar (Behrooz Niknejad), Arman (Jamsheed), Shandermani (Babak), Haleh (Fetneh), Reza Beik Imanverdi (killer with knife). Prod.: Azhir Film Studio

Newspaper ad anouncing the screening of the film in three Tehran cinemas

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Tehran Noir: Samuel Khachikian and the rise and fall of Iranian genre films

For four decades, this innovative director made Hollywood-style movies that played to sellout crowds in Iran. After the revolution, his western inspirations fell out of favour, but a new retrospective of his little-seen work should reinvogorate his reputation.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Tehran Noir: Thrillers of Samuel Khachikian

Samuel Khachikian behind the camera

If you already don't know, there's a new Iranian cinema strand taht I've co-programmed with Behdad Amini for Il Cinema Ritrovato. I'll be soon posting more information about this small tribute to one of Iranian cinema's greatest:

Femme fatales, private detectives, rainy nights in a concrete jungle, desperate men in trench coats… It all sounds like a film noir, and in fact, it is, but set in a time and place you would least expect: Tehran of the 1950s! This year, Il Cinema Ritrovato shifts its focus to the golden age of Iranian genre films, by unearthing four films directed by one of the most popular and influential figures in the history of Iranian cinema, Samuel Khachikian. The films, never screened outside Iran, show Khachikian working in his most familiar territories of film policier, thriller and film noir which both documented Iran on the point of modernisation and, through the myth of cinema, contributed to it. In the world of these delightfully stylish, low-key films an overlooked face of Iranian cinema is to be discovered.

Upcoming Screening: Abbas Kiarostami's Political Allegories

Solution No. 1

Playing tonight (June 14, 7:30 PM) at Close-Up Film Centre in London. Booking.

First Graders [Avvaliha]
Abbas Kiarostami
1985 | 79 min | Colour

First Graders is best considered as a companion film to Homework. Both deal in the most explicit way with issues of primary school education, with deviations for the sake of meta-poetic or political commentary. This film serves less as a critique of the educational system, instead focusing on the role of the school headmaster, who resembles the judge in Close-Up. He is a patient, spiritual figure who restores order and with this portrait Kiarostami provides a subtle and somehow sympathetic image of a totalitarian leader, in which there is both ambiguity and irony.” – Ehsan Khoshbakht

Upcoming Screening: The Report (1977)

Shohreh Aghdashloo in The Report
Playing at Close-Up Film Centre, London, on June 19, 7:30 PM. Booking here.

The Report [original title: Gozaresh]
Abbas Kiarostami • Iran 1977 • 1h49m • Persian with English subtitles • Cast: Shohreh Aghdashloo, Kurosh Afsharpanah, Mehdi Montazar, Mostafa Tari, Hashem Arkan.

Produced by Iranian New Wave cinema director and producer Bahman Farmanara (making this Kiarostami’s first break with Kanoon), The Report centres on an unhappy marriage and offers viewers a time-capsule of middle class life in Tehran in the 70s. Starring Oscar nominee Shohreh Aghdashloo, and a major influence on many Iranian directors of the post-revolutionary era (including the two-time Oscar winner Asghar Farhadi), this deftly crafted, semi-autobiographical domestic drama was Kiarostami’s first work to feature professional actors. All copies of the film are believed to be lost or destroyed, with the digital copy presented being the sole surviving film element.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Bread and Alley (1970) + Breaktime (1972)

These two shorts will be playing before The Traveller at Close-Up, London, June 5, 7:30 PM.

Bread and Alley [Naan va koocheh]
Abbas Kiarostami
1970 | 10 min | B/W

Based on a real-life incident experienced by Kiarostami’s brother, Taghi, the director’s first film sets the template for his cinema until the late 1980s. It concerns a young boy who is unable to return home with the bread he has bought, due to his fear of a stray dog in an alley. The film’s jazzy soundtrack, which pretty much dictates the editing, is based on the Beatles’ Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.

Breaktime [Zang-e tafrih]
Abbas Kiarostami
1972 | 14 min | B/W

Famous for its non-narrative approach and its open ending, this story of a schoolboy who is dismissed from the classroom after breaking a window presages not only The Traveller, but also Mohammad-Ali Talebi’s film Willow and Wind, scripted by Kiarostami.

The Traveller (Abbas Kiarostami, 1974)

The Traveller is playing at Close-Up, London, June 5, 7:30 PM.

The Traveller [original title: Mosafer]
Abbas Kiarostami • Iran 1974 • 1h14m • Digital • Persian with English subtitles • Cast: Hassan Darabi, Masud Zandbegleh, Mostafa Tari.

Kiarostami’s first feature film, and arguably one of his best, The Traveller was made for Kanoon (The Centre for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults). A suspenseful, witty story of a young boy’s determination to travel from his small town to Tehran to attend a national football match, it combines realism with the economy and precision of a visual artist (the director’s first occupation before turning filmmaker). Featuring brilliant performances by a cast of non-actors, the film has one of the most gripping, unforgettable endings in film history.