Iranian movies attract greater international attention

Dearest Ghazal,
Before the 2012 Oscar will be awarded on February 26th to the different categories of cinematography, I would like to say something about the state of the Iranian Cinema. This year, the highly acclaimed masterpiece “Nader and Simin – A separation” by the prominent Iranian film-maker Asghar Farhadi is nominated as the best non-english movie and for the best script.

“Nader and Simin” was not the only Iranian film which made it to the western screens during the last years. We were mesmerized by Ali Samadi AhadisGreen Wave” and “Salami Aleikum“, by Shirin Neshats “Zanan-e bedun-e mardan (Woman without Men)” and by the magic realism of Marjam SatrapisPersepolis” and “Chicken with Plums“.
Movies by Iranian directors who have the chance to work abroad (like Marjan Satrapi or Ali Samadi Ahadi) are extraordinary masterpieces, carrying a very unique handwriting of their directors. And they breath the spirit of freedom and of unlimited creativity. But because they are produced in the west, they attract much less media attention. The media and critics in the west too often judge a movie more by the circumstances under which it has been produced, and therefore grant a movie that has been produced inside the country an extra bonus for “braveness”. And for this extra bonus there seem to be a consensus that Iranian movies which are a domestic production (like those by Jafar Panahi, Abbas Kiarostami, Asghar Fahadi or Mohammad Rasoulof) might lack the free-spirit and the very personal and experimental techniques and tough expressions, which are characteristic for movies like “Green Wave” or “Salami Alaikum” by Ali Samadi Ahadi, “Woman without Men” by Shirin Neshat or “Chicken with Plum” by Marijam Satrapi. How is it possible, that although anything else than happy ending soft-stories, these four movies leave the audience with a feeling of hope, with the confidence that even the biggest tragedy will find a solution, or at least a meaning ? Is it because each tragedy will lose its horror if it can be openly narrated, if a movie-director can show and say everything he/she wants to say, using the words and pictures he/she feels are appropriate in this very moment ? This way even the saddest and tragic stories like in “Green Wave” or in “Chicken with Plum” can be presented with the greatest of ease. Here, the movie will be a relieve for the director, for the actors and finally for the audience. Because the emotionally strong stories were transformed into movies with all possible and all neccessary cinematografic elements, the audience feels a strong satisfaction and happiness.
In contrast, the movies produced at home in Iran (like “Darbareye Elly” or “Nader and Simin – A divorce” by Fahadi or “Offside” by Jafar Panahi) can not make us forget that censorship is the dominating condition under which artists have to live and work. Each single word in a dialogue, every character, every scenery has to be considered under the threat of censoreship. The so-called “scissors in your own head” might help the director to finally produce a movie that passes the ideological watch-dogs of the regime, and therefore wont suffer too much from beeing “trimmed” by some uneducated beaurocrats. But the movie itself, even if it fullfills the highest standard of movie-arts and creativity, innovation and honesty, can not make us forget that it was produced under conditions of unfreedom. You still can smell the sweat of the film-makers from the fear of loosing the battle against the beaurocrats, you can feel the many frustrating moments they had when another brilliant idea had to be put aside, for the sake to get the whole project through the machinery. One feels that they had to carefully select their words and their pictures, and this leaves a feeling in the audience that not everything what should have been said and shown in the movie became real.
I still advocate the Oscar beeing awarded to Asghar Fahadi, I think the battle he fought against the dump and dogmatic Iranian censoreship and the excellent team work he set up with great artists such as Sareh Bayat, Leila Hatami, Peyman Hatami and many others should be honoured. I think that none of the directors that left Iran would have had enough mental energy to fight through all these odds as Fahadi did, always beeing aware of the risk to end up in prison or beeing sentenced with a ban to work, as his colleague Jafar Panahi has experienced it. For sure, neither Ali Samadi Ahadi, nor Marijam Satrapi or Shirin Neshat would have had the stand and the courage (and maybe other qualities as well) to go through all the husles and restrictions to produce their movies at home in Iran – but maybe under conditions of relative freedom they are the more innovative and creative art-directors. A case where an Iranian film-maker probably tried to get “the best of both worlds” was Bahman Gobadis “Kasi az gorbehaye irani khabar nadareh (No one knows about persian cats)” According to IMBD, “.. during filming, Ghobadi and his actors were arrested twice but released after giving presents to the authorities and lying about the real subject of the film.” This way Bahman Gobadi found a half legal, half underground style to get a movie approved by the Iranian authorities, although it was full of satyrical episodes and signs showing that a way-out of the misery requires the abolution of the dogmatic islamic laws of the mullahs regime. But this film must be considered a singular event.

In general, Iranian movies must be judged either by their political braveness (if they are produced inside Iran) or by the high cinematographic standard (when they are produced abroad). At the current political situation and the degree of oppression of intellectuals and arts-people under the islamic regime I think it is legitimate to honour with the Oscar award the movies who are the result of a brave political fight. But in history books of Iranian movie arts, I believe, the films of the exiled directors Ali Samadi Ahadi, Marjam Satrapi or Shirin Neshat might be considered more innovative and of longer-lasting value.

7 Responses to Iranian movies attract greater international attention

  1. When you say “…cinema attracts greater international attention” I would answer that perhaps the biggest media coverage was not for one of the new Iranian movies, but for an Iranian actress, who posed for some nude pictures.

  2. admin says:

    Dear Hafiz, I also heard about the fuzz that was caused among the Iranians about Goshiftehs nude photographs in a French journal. The Webserver of was stalled like during a DOS attack, cause every user wanted to comment on this.
    Maybe her only intention was to make a clear statement to the Islamic Moral authorities, that she feels free now to do what she wants to do, and that she does not need a way back to the system of cultural oppression.

  3. Anahid H. says:

    Dear radius-of-the-persian cat, I enjoyed reading your blog.

    Unfortunately with regards to different art forms in Iran, it is the worst with movies. A poet in Iran can write his/her poetry since no license is required. Even though there is threat of censorship and in cases, there are consequences to writing the wrong poem, article or story but unlike a movie, not every step of the creative process (or at least many steps of it) has to happen under IRI eyes.

  4. I agree !

    Good read and intelligent overview of the current productions both inside and outside Iran and the way they are percieved by either being over estimated or under valued.

    Thanks for sharing !

  5. Radius says:

    Dear Anahid and Darius, glad to hear that my view is not totaly singular, although many others might not share it. I know that the “professional” critics in the media also found some points to complaine about Shirin Neshats “Woman without Men”. But who cares.

    I had a look at the program of the Berlinale Festival that starts tomorrow. This years focus went completely onto the “Arabellion” countries, many movies from Egypt, Lebanon, and onto russian/soviet cinematography.

    In the “Young Talents” section there is a 10min short-movie “A little suicide” by Ana Lily Amirpour (…) She is obviously of Iranian descendent from the LA based emigrants community.

    Darius, in case you want to come to Berlin and do an interview with her: I assume she will be there to present her film on 15th and 17th of February.

    greetings Radius

  6. Esfand A. says:

    First of all Oscar awards are for American movies, just like Fajr awards are for Iranian movies. Oscars are noteworthy and the “Superbowl of movie awards” if you will because Hollywood has the longest history of Cinema, spends the most on movies and have the biggest shares of sales.

    Now there are plenty of Iranian movies who have won foreign awards in countries other than America, but there are only a handful of either Iranian movies or of Iranian heritage that have been nominated for an Oscar.

    You mention Persepolis, which was nominated for an Oscar but because it was an animation, it was nominated in the animated movie category. Now in that year the competition was Ratatoulie which was a masterful animation and really no match for Persepolis. Chalk that one up for bad luck for Persepolis for being nominated in the same year. If it was any other year, there would’ve been more chances. Don’t forget Persepolis won numerous awards other than Oscar.

    Then you have Children of Heaven which was again nominated for an Oscar but it lost to Life Is Beautiful which won 3 Oscars for, best foreign film, best actor AND most importantly Best Picture of the Year. So again challk that one for bad luck for being nominated in the same category as a heavy weight. Children of Heaven didn’t have any political braveness or background.

    You also mentioned Offside. Well one of the requirements for a film to be nominated for an Oscar is that the film to be shown at least one week on screen in a movie theatre in the country where that film was made. Offside didn’t get a permit to be shown and only a DVD release despite the campaign to allow authorities to show it only one week.

    About Elly was at best something like House of Sand and Fog where the movie itself wasn’t nominated for anything but had 3 nominations for best actor, actress and musical score. About Elly was nowhere near as worthy.

    So in conclusion I do not agree with the premise of your article. I have seen arguments like yours where they say why Separation and not all these other movies? Well because for one thing Separation was better! Just because you think there are better movies doesn’t make it so! Other movies haven’t even won any foreign awards much less an Oscar.

    Separation has a universal message that many can relate to and it is the sign of our time, internationally. It is also well written, well played and well made.

    Not everything that is made and is good is worthy of an award. See at least a dozen foreign films who have won an Oscar and then you’ll find out why they’ve won and why other Iranian movies have not made it.

    Everything is sacred

  7. Tiger Lily says:

    here is just one point of many: branding.

    Those films coming out of Tagespolitik Thirld World regions already have a branded identity, Iranian cinema in particular adhering to universal themes, bypassing local limitations via different symbolic characters eg for a while it was children and the publicity of those films is already given on a plate.

    A lot of diaspora, tries to use more accessible technologies, but relies
    heavily on the most idiotic of all types of Tagespolitik social engineering branding, that of multicultural efffnicity and gender, which for obvious reasons is very limited, repetitive and stereotypical to watch, whatever the new creative tricks.

    But then there are a few gems.

    Point2 : satisfaction of distant, exotic altruism

    a bit like the feel-good-factor of supporting Costa Rican farmers by buying only some promised utopian packaging.

    Next point: distribution (eg see Sony…)

    Next point: laws of equity….loads more points…

    Thanks for the article, radius-sending-me-around-your-tail ;)

Hinterlasse eine Antwort

Deine E-Mail-Adresse wird nicht veröffentlicht. Erforderliche Felder sind markiert *

AlphaOmega Captcha Classica  –  Enter Security Code

Du kannst folgende HTML-Tags benutzen: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>