Rob Edelman: New Iranian Cinema, Part 1
I recently attended the Festival Cinema Invisible, now in its third year, which features an array of new Iranian films, all of varying length. What struck me was the generally high quality of many-- but not all-- of the films, not to mention the universality of their subjects.
Not surprisingly, some of the screened films were extremely political in nature. TAKE CARE, a six-minute-long short, opens with repeated images of women being tossed into prison cells. Then what follows are the plights and fates of some of them. We are not told why they have been imprisoned and, within the framework of the film, it hardly matters. On one level, the film mirrors a certain reality for women within a culture in which they appear to be second-class citizens. At the same time, this brief film offers a disturbingly vivid view of the exploitation of women that might exist in any culture.
In the 17-minute-long WHEN A KID WAS A KID, a bunch of children are seen playing among themselves. They are sweet and funny and innocent, in a way that all children are, but in their games they clearly are imitating the behavior of their parents and the roles these adults play in their lives. Here, we see how the issues and conflicts that exist among the adults in a specific family are revealingly reflected in the behavior of their youngest members.
12 + 1, which runs 30 minutes, spotlights an egocentric young man who is on his way to pick up his bride. While doing so, he phones his past girlfriends to gauge their responses as he informs them of his impending nuptials. The film offer a pointed portrayal of a self-centered womanizer and, given this guy’s personality, one only can wonder how happy his marriage will be or how long it will last. And yet again, this film serves as a reminder that this kind of person exists in all cultures the world over.
The clever, appetite-inducing FIVE PIECES OF IRANIAN DISHES, which lasts an hour, celebrates the history of Iranian cuisine and how it reflects the country’s culture. More significantly, it also mirrors the manner in which the most popular approaches to dining have changed across time, from savoring carefully prepared dishes at home or in restaurants to munching on edibles that are the equivalent of “fast food.” Does this sound familiar? It certainly does... and yet again, this transformation exists in countries and cultures across the globe.
Not all the films screened were as dramatically effective as TAKE CARE, WHEN A KID WAS A KID, 12 + 1, and FIVE PIECES OF IRANIAN DISHES. Some, in fact, were barely watchable. For example, the feature-length, provocatively titled THIS FILM MUST NOT BE WATCHED, the tale of a woman who is filming her life as her marriage falls apart, is dramatically confusing and visually headache-inducing.
Not surprisingly, of course, not every film screened in the festival was worth seeing and experiencing-- and THIS FILM MUST NOT BE WATCHED is a textbook example.
But that really is not the point. For film lovers, attending this festival and others like it is the equivalent of sampling a smorgasbord of unfamiliar edibles. Some may be tasty. Others may not be. The key here is to open yourself up to being exposed to them, to sample them, and to come away with the understanding that the only contemporary films that are worth seeking out are not those that earn theatrical exposure.
Rob Edelman teaches film history at the University at Albany. He has written several books on film and television, and is an associate editor of Leonard Maltin’s Movie and Video Guide.
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