Iranian movies, or movies from Iran ?

After watching this breathtaking movie “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” (directed by Ana Lily Armirpour) I am more and more convinced that there is a fundamental difference between movies maade by Iranian cinematographers living and working abroad for reasons of personal and artistic freedom, and movies made by Iranians at home. The latter are usually praised for the political braveness and personal risk that the film crew and the artists take, sometimes working clandestine as for instance Jafah Panahi with “Tehran Taxi”. Movies made in Iran also have high chances to win prices at international festivals, as they did at the Berlinale, at Cannes or at the Academy awards.
But my own preference are the films made by Iranian exiled directors abroad. I always liked “Woman without Men” by Shirin Neshat, “Persepolis” and recently “Chicken with plums” by Marjane Satrapi, and “Green Wave” and “Salami Aleikum” by Ali Samadi Ahadi, and now this phantastic “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night”. It avoids any superficial political message, but it is filled with eternal and general questions of morality, tragic clash between a social decay and the private pursue of honesty and love. It lets us follow the nightly walks of a dark covered girl through the empty streets of the Iranian ghost-town Bad City, a place that reeks of death and loneliness. The townspeople are unaware they are being stalked by a lonesome vampire.

This is a kind of movie one could watch again and again. It is full of pictures, scenes and impressions that are not easy to grab on the first glance. Somewhere I read a critic saying “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” is an iconic feminist movie. I don’t know, either I lack the sensitivity for this, or I have no issue with feminist movie, but it would not come to my mind at all.

 

Thats all Kafka’s fault

Franz Kafkas novels and stories were all too complex, too ambigious and without a clear message to be turned into a Hollywood blockbuster. Even the French nouvelle vague, Italian neorealism nor the German expressionist cinema had any ambitions to use Kafkas literature as a movie plot (With the exception of Orson Welles’ version of “The Trial”).   But now comes a movie from a team of Iranian ex-pats, who produced an unofficial tribute to Kafkas obscure world.

The first Iranian Vampire Western ever made, Ana Lily Amirpour’s debut basks in the sheer pleasure of pulp. A joyful mash-up of genre, archetype, and iconography, its prolific influences span spaghetti westerns, graphic novels, horror films, and the Iranian New Wave.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” is not a blockbuster, but it is a great and intelligent, amazingly complex story with a hidden political message.

The girl of Ana Lily Amirpour’s movie is not like other girls. She is, for one thing, a vampire, but she’s not like other vampires, either. She wears a hijab and prowls the fictional Iranian town called Bad City (actually Bakersfield, Calif.). Her inevitable feeding seems to come as much from personal needs as it does a sense of social justice: she feeds on the bad guys and spares the ones that she seems to regard as good or at least having potential. She is lonely and almost entirely silent. Her best friend is her record collection.

Adventure Land

One of the highest valued novels of the recent German literature is by the late author Wolfgang Herrndorf, whos early death in 2013 was perhaps not only the big loss of a great literature talent, but of many yet unwritten books as well. Unlike the recent death of Gunther Grass, whos most creative period ended perhaps in 1988 with his novel “The Rat”, one can imagine which wealth of phantastic and witty and lovely literary works Wolfgang Herrndorf could have given us if a deadly illness would not have taken him away.

Herrndorfs most influential novel, “Tschick” is a coming of age story of two schoolboys, one from a well-established but decadent East-Berlin family, the other one a really underdog of post cold-war immigrants from somewhere in eastern Europe. The novel can be summarized very shortly, which I think is not neccessarily a bad indication of its quality: The two boys are bored duirng their summer holidays and decide to steal an old car to drive to Wallachia (in a review in the Guardian it is described as “they sort of borrow a car“). The magically sounding land of Wallachia lays somewhere between Ukraine and Romania and is the homeland of Tschicks, the underdogs grand parents. But instead of making their 1000 miles ride to Wallachia, they soon lose their way in the post-unification waste-lands east of Berlin. There they get involved in a series of adventures, during which they experience into dangerous situations, are threatened by gangsters, but also encounter moments of romantic love and philosophic reflections.

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The novel therefore reminded me very much of one of the greatest comming of age novels that was ever written (long before this category was coined): “The adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain. Tom and Huck are also planning to go on a journey to a far away place. But instead of sailing hundreds of miles to Saint Louis, their trip ends after a few hours on a tiny island. It is there where they experience the adventures that turn them from obedient school-boys into self-confident young men. The journey, even if it brings them just a few miles away from home, provides the right environment for their own test of courage. For the first time in their life they spend some nights alone under the open sky, learn who to survive outside the protective home.  And in a similar context as the two scholl-boys in Herrndorfs novel, Tom and Huck learn to get along with fears. Even better, they experience the greatest moments of discovering their own strength when they don’t escape dangerous moments, but when they find a way of dealing with them. And for these great discoveries, neither Tom and Huck nor Tschick and Maik (the second character in Herrndorfs novel) need a real far journey. As soon as they get out of sight of their home town, the adventures start.

I had to think about these adventure lands which may begin just beyond the last garden fence of your hometown when Cathie, a good friend of us came around recently. She inherited from her parents in the US a rather large sum of money, and uses it all now to spend on travelling around the world. About every second month she is away, seeing places such as Marocc, Bali, Thailand, India, Mexico and a lot more. Usually after each trip she comes to see us and brings a souvenir, as if she wants to show us the evidence that she indeed has been at these far places. But this more or less seems to be the only “deliverables” of her exotic journeys. With all her money and the security of an AmEx credit card and prepayed return flight, she stays outside of an adventure land. She experiences the far places as if she looks into a glossy photo book.

I am not categorically against any traveling to far away places, but one should not go with the tourist streams or flocks of backpackers. And if one is not able to experience the potential adventures in your near neighborhood, you will neither find them on the other side of the world.

PS: It is a pitty that although Herrndorfs novel “Tschick” has been translated in more than 25 languages, there is  no english Wikipedia article on him. I think in th enext few days I am going to write one. The english title of the book is “Why we took the car“. I am surprised that the review in the english Guardian did not revealed the similarity in the narrative pattern of Mark Twains great american youth novel and this modern roadmovie, that was written more than a century later.

Motorcycle Mama

This is a photo of my mother, in the mid 50s. She poses on a 350ccm AWO motorbike, which is a shame that it got lost over the years. I know that she drove to the clinic when she was pregnant with me. When I was 16 and with our rat pack made the first illegal rides on 50ccm scooters, she got panic. She is still very concerned about my health. I did not even told her about my recent bicycle crash.

I know her care is with good intent, and therefore she deserves the best wishes on the occasion of todays mothers day.

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The communist mutation

In one of Monthy Python’s series there was this animated cartoon (by Terry Gillian) about the eminent yellow danger, world wide communist conspiracy that finally causes dental canker and severe tooth loss in people of the free, western countries. To combat this threat, all people in the free western world should therefor use the new toothpaste “Crelm”, making the teeth resistant against the communist conspiracy. This was really a fine irony about the hypocrisies of the commercial advertisement business.
Today I was reminded to this crazy Monthy Python sketch, while a colleague of mine from the Cambridge Sanger Center gave a talk about stem cell’s involvement in cancer progression. Inhis talk I heard for the first time about a new kind of mutation in the p53 gene, called the communist mutation. What this should be ? Is this a mutation that causes a disorganization of tissue architecture ? Or will people who carry the communist p53 mutation develop persistent revolutionary ambitions ? Or maybe cells which acquire this communist mutation turn red, like those transfected with a red-fluorescence protein ? So I asked the scientist during the next coffee break what characterizes a communist p53 mutation and if there are also capitalist ones.
communist mutation
First he did not understood my point, but than he started laughing and excused for his northern accent. He said that he meant that this mutation is the “commonest” of all the mutations in this gene. But shouldn’t this correctly be called “the most common mutation” ? I never expected that I have to suggest a correct English grammar to an Englishman from one of the famous red-brick (hic!) Cambridge / Oxford colleges. The fact that I mixed “commonest” and “communist” is not simply by mishearing. The two words share the same etymological origin. They are both derived from the latin word “Comoine”, meaning shared things. This can be tracked further to the Proto-Indo-European word *ko-moin-i. It was only in the English language that “common” became synonym with “frequent”, by the assumption that something that is shared by many (i.e. common) intuitively has also to be frequent. I have some objection to this line of argument. A subway train is perhaps the most common transport vehicle in big cities such as London, Moskow or Berlin, because a single train is shared by many passengers (i.e. its is common). But it is by fare not the most frequent type of vehicle. Taxis or private cars are by far more frequent, despite they are not common (because they are rarely shared).

Here is the original Monthy Pythons sketch:

After the hurrican was over

We had a furious hurrican recently, which broke down the three largest trees in our garden. Luckily, except from a completely damaged wooden hut where we keep garden stuff, ski and bicycles, nothing else was broken.

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I wish I had more time to sit peacefully with our dog and something good to read.

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You can get so much pain for a dime

I had a crash with my bicycle a week ago, and I still feel the pain. It was my very own fault. I can not blame anyone else than myself. In fact, it was not my inability to ride a bike, but it was a combination of stinginess and too well working bike brakes.

I use to listen to some musik or audiobook or just a radio-programm while riding the bike every day 8 miles in the morning and 8 miles in the evening. Last Monday, riding along the narrow path across the plain fields that circumfere our research center, the right earphone came off and in the few seconds while it was hanging on the cable in the wind it lost its rubber earplug. This earplug costs perhaps a few cent if one buys it in a large pack at Media Markt. Without much thinking, I pulled the bike brake with full force, not anticipating that it is a rather new disk brake. In this second, my only consideration was to get back this silly earplug. The brake on the front wheel worked so well, that it not only fully stopped the bike in a second, but it also made the rear wheel come offb and catapulted me over the handlebar. Since I flew for some moments head on before landing 3 meters in front of the bike, I was perhaps lucky that I use intuitively my hands to protected my head from a hard landing on the footpath. Anyhow, everyting was a matter of tenth of a second, and I can not fully remember which parts of my body hit the earth hardest. But it must have been in the order of

1. right upper leg

2. right chest

3. right jaw

The leg looks pretty scratched (superficially), and I wont post a picture hear unless somebody is keen to get one privatly. But since there are only muscle under the skin, I don’t feel much pain.

The chest, however, is still pretty painfull. I am not sure if a rib was broken, but it could be. It is difficult to laugh or to caugh now, and when I touch the ribs under my right armpit, there is a really pointed, stinging sensation.

The right lower jaw must also gotten a punch, but this I only recognise when I press on it with my fingers.

Conclusion:

1) Hunting for something worth a dime can cause a lot of pain.

2) It is great to see how amazingly potent our bodies are in healing injuries.

3) I still refuse to wear a bike helmet.

This short, happy life

In two weeks time, the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) will release its 3rd World Happiness Report (to avoid any confusion, it won’t deal with happiness in the “Third World” as the developing countries were name in the past). Using a standard set of questionaires and socio-economic parameters, it will rank 156 countries in terms of higher or lower “happiness”. This rank list takes three pages of the entire report. On the remaining 150 pages it will try to make sense of the gains and loses of happiness over the last years, and why some countries are much happier than others.

With some certainty one can expect that Denmark is heading the rank list again, as it did in the 2o13 report (where it was tightly followed by Norway and Switzerland). Since I am more involved in medical rather than mental issues of life (which with no doubt can affect the anticipated level of happiness more), I am rather interested in analysing the life expectancy, and the duration of a disease-free life. And here something funny becomes obvious: the leader in happiness, Denmark, is rather bad in terms of life expectancy (38th rank in the world with only 78.25 years as compared with the winning Japanese, who on average reach 86.2 years). Japan on the other hand was only on position 43 in terms of happiness, which places it in the lower half of all OECD countries.

It was not only me who got confused by this discrepancy. Last year the Danish minister for public health was interviewed about this issue. She should give an explanation why the Danish people have a lower life expectancy than many other (and according to the World Happiness Report 2013) and less happy European nations. She came to th conclusion that it must be a rather unhealthy life style in Denmark: high caloric and fat food, a lot of hard alcoholic drinks and widespread smoking. If she really has evidence that the Danish live such a unhealthy life-style, it would indeed explain a relative shorter life expectancy.

My concern is, however that their unhealthy life style somehow might be the reason for the anticipated happiness. Who knows, maybe they also do car races in urban areas or free style base jumping with an umbrella or other adrenalin boosting activities in their free time. They might all increase the degree of subjective happiness, and at the same time reduce the chance for a long life.

Depleted currency

RIght in time with the agreement between Iran and five permanent UN security council member states and Germany about the limitations of IRIs nuclear activity and the lift of the economic sanctions, the Iranian national bank has issued a new banknote of 50.000 rial. Whereas the old one from 2007, designed under the command of the late IRI president Ahmadenijad, displayed proudly the ambitions of the country to become a nuclear superpower, its 2015 replacement version shows a more neutral architectural detail of the Tehran University.

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The script next to it cites the prophet Mohammed with the words “The Persians will reach every knowledge, be it here on earth or later in heaven”.  The phrase might sound cynical, since it threatens that if they won’t surrender under the muslim conquest, they would be eliminated.

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On the new banknote, together with the ambiguous atomic symbol also this phrase by Mohammed was removed together with another detail:  the naming of the Persian Gulf. Instead of Mohammeds words it is now the classical Persian writer Firdawsi, creator of the Shahnameh who gained the honor of reminding the customers who carry this banknote in their pockets of the great era of science, arts and philosophy that flourished in their country more than a 1000 years ago. A green tree left of the university gates can also be seen as a political symbol, since there is a lot of concern among the Iranians about the neglectance of any environmental protection in the country.

Amoz Oz’ great novel

Buchcover | Bild: Suhrkamp Verlag Now I understand why I had to wait for years for a new Amoz Oz novel.  It is because a novel as amazing as “Judas” can only arise after the author spend quite some time, to let the characters and their relationships ferment and mature like a good wine. I would call it a centuries novel, and one easily feels that it represents Amoz Oz’ statement of a life experience. It is about the relationship between an individum and his own honest believes, and the common opinion of the society. And although they are so much in conflict with each other, it is only in a free and liberal country like Israel that this conflict will never overcome love.

If the Stockholm Nobel price committee would not be full of political prejudies, they should understand that there is hardly any other writer alive (with the exception of Lars Gustafsson, Salmon Rushdie and Philip Roth) who deserves the literature Nobel award as Amoz Oz does.

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