A while ago, I wrote a short article for Keyframe and introduced seven unsung Iranian films made after 2000. I firmly believe that new Iranian cinema has a lot to say and there are a number of very talented filmmakers working in Iran these days Continue Reading “Berlinale: New Iranian Cinema”
I wrote a lits for Keyframe about 7 (+11) best unsung Iranian films since 2000. I compiled the list since I think Iranian cinema has more than just a few familiar faces and films you will easily find in big film festivals, and also because I think Iranian films you usually see in film festivals won’t depict whole scope of Iranian cinema. I hope this list can tease you to go and look for other Iranian films that you may have missed in the past 15, 16 years.
Continue Reading “What You (May) Missed – Iranian Cinema After 2000”
سال 2015، سال لذتبخش سینمایی بود، سالی با فیلمهای دیدنی فراوان، فیلمهایی که برای دیدن برخیشان باید کمی تلاش میکردی و تکاپو اما خب، مگر بخشی از کار سینمادوست پیدا کردن و کشف فیلمها نیست. Continue Reading “Top 10 Films 2015”
One of my favorite list of the year is MUBI Notebook’s Fantasy Double Features and it is the second year I’m contributing with the list. Continue Reading “Fantasy Double Features 2015”
In “Iran’s Film Industry Hopes Nuclear Deal Will Help Open Up Biz Internationally”, an article by Variety’s Nick Vivarelli, different aspects of the pros and cons of Nuclear Deal for Iranian cinema is discussed. I am happy to be quoted alongside a number of other Iranian cineastes including Shahram Mokri, Reza Dormishian, Barry Navidi, Amir Rezazadeh, Mohammad Attebbai and Amir Esfandiari. Continue Reading “Iranian Cinema and Nuclear Deal”
Abbas Kiarostami is a familiar name to many people around the world. Since countless internet sites about him exist. He is considered by many as one of the best filmmakers of cinema. The filmmaker is a source of pride, because through his films, Kiarostami manages to present a new, refreshing image of Iran, a poetic outlook one can’t find in any other Iranian movie. Continue Reading “10 Essential Abbas Kiarostami Films”
My first piece for Sight & Sound magazine is published and out there in the October 2015 issue. It is part of the Female Gaze special issue and I wrote about Marva Nabili’s The Sealed Soil. It feels really good that it is there in page 27 just after Kim Morgan‘s piece on Mikey and Nicki and in the same page as Greta Gerwig’s piece on Girlfriends. There are only three pieces on Iranian female filmmakers, Sarah Gavron on The Apple by Samira Makhmalbaf, Jonathan Rosenbaum on The Day I Became a Woman by Marzieh Meshkini and my short piece on The Sealed Soil. Thanks to Isabel Stevens for the opportunity. Continue Reading “Female Gaze – My First Article in Sight & Sound”
(This article was originally published at Indiewire)
In recent years, much of the English-speaking world has heard about Iranian cinema. Many Western audiences have seen the Oscar-winning “A Separation” and explored the filmography of Abbas Kiarostami. With the imprisonment of seminal Iranian director Jafar Panahi, plenty of stories about the challenges of making movies in Iran have circled the world. But what about the challenges of writing *about* movies in Iran?
You may never have heard about Iranian film critics, about how they watch movies in a country that never screens foreign titles and where DVDs are not sold in stores. Allow me to fill that gap. What you are about to read is my personal account of watching movies in Iran as a film critic, but I am certain much about my experience applies to other young critics in the country.
The first thing I remember about movies is a single picture: Federico Fellini with clown make-up from the movie “The Clowns” on the cover of Film, the oldest monthly film magazine in Iran (published since 1982). I vividly remember how it terrified me. My father, a film buff before the Islamic Revolution in 1979, used to buy the magazine and he was the man who introduced me to cinema. He told me many stories about movies he had seen before the Revolution, when movies were dubbed into Persian and cinemas were interested in screening popular American movies like “Gone with the Wind” and “Casablanca.” He recalled that there were few cinematheques (the first was founded by Farrokh Ghafari in 1941) that only screened European movies such as those made by Ingmar Bergman or Michelangelo Antonioni.
In the mid-1980s, the only ways to know about movies in Iran were from the latest issues of Film and a television program called “Honar-e Haftom” (“Seventh Art”). Since I couldn’t read yet, I watched the program, which featured classic movies such as “Metropolis,” “Rashomon” and “Psycho.”
There was another way of watching movies in late 1980s and 1990s that many people around the world will fondly recall: VHS. Although video players were banned then, many people owned them anyway. While we didn’t have one, sometimes my father borrowed his friends’ machines and let me watch “appropriate” movies like Charlie Chaplin’s “Modern Times,” “The Beauty and the Beast” or “Sound of the Music.” However, I sometimes sneaked out of my bedroom late at night and secretly watched some guilty pleasures — “Goldfinger,” on one occasion — when my father put them on for himself.
By the mid-1990s, the VHS ban was lifted and Mohammad Khatami’s presidency (1997 – 2005) brought the country several cultural reforms. As a result, more movies were available and CDs became popular. By the late 1990’s, the movies were everywhere.
During my first year in high school, I started watching movies like crazy. I had a PC and knew about film clubs that rented uncut films illegally, so I watched more than a thousand films during my four years in high school. Those movies were mostly entertaining blockbusters like “Titanic” and “Godzilla,” but also became interested in horror through “Scream” and “Nightmare on Elm Street,” as well as classics like “The Godfather.” Some of the non-English films I saw during this period include “Last Tango in Paris” and “Persona.”
As I was getting more and more into movies at the turn of the century, I watched two movies that changed my life: “American Beauty” and “The Matrix.” While “The Matrix” showed me new frontiers in filmmaking, “American Beauty” taught me how a story must be told. Watching these two, I decided to become a director, a dream I still pursue. It was at that same time that I started using the internet, though our connection speed was (and remains, compared to Western standards) very low. Using the internet, I could learn more about movies and read about movies that were not discussed about in domestic magazines (especially if they contained sexual content). It was thanks to the internet that I became aware of film directors I now adore, such as Peter Greenaway. In short, the internet was a miracle for us: It helped us feel like we were connected to the world.
Aside from the inability to view movies in Iranian theaters, critics are further limited by the country’s religious standards. Since nudity and sexuality are forbidden in Iranian cinema, critics prefer not to write about such movies in official publications. (Both “Antichrist” and “Shame”, for example, were barely covered by the Iranian press.) Instead, they turn to their Facebook pages.
For many Iranians, cinema is their window to the world beyond their restrictive borders. My window was Fellini. The first movie of his I watched all the way through was “Julliet of the Spirits,” but the film that opened the window was that still image from “The Clowns.” To this day, it remains my favorite movie of all time.
Ukrainian filmmaker Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy won the European Discovery award for his first film, The Tribe, a teen gang drama featuring a cast of deaf sign-language users. The Tribe debuted in Critics’ Week in Cannes, where it won the section’s grand prize. I talked to Slaboshpytskiy , after Cannes Film Festival, where his movie won three awards; Critics Week Grand Prize, France 4 Visionary Award and Gan Foundation Support for Distribution. Thanks to the producer of the movie and Myroslav, I get to watch the movie and totally mesmerized by it; it is one of the best movies of the year, one of the boldest and one of the most innovative ones. In the following interview he talks more about shooting the movie with non-professionals, filming the sex scenes and not using language.
How did the idea of the movie come to your mind?
Initially, there was a concept: the film in sign language. And this concept has been with me most of my life. When I was a little boy, there was this specialized school for deaf children across the yard near my school. By the way, most of the shooting took place in my old school. Deaf kids came to play in our football playground. Often we fought each other. But I still remember how I was fascinated, watching the deaf communicate with each other in sign language. And since I already knew in my childhood that I would become a filmmaker, we can say that the idea was born then. Almost the entire film was shot in an district where I had spent my childhood. It was formerly named after Joseph Stalin. Locals still call it Stalinka. It proletarian district on the outskirts of the city, with its special architecture and character. And since I grew up there, I tried to express the spirit of this brutal district in the visual way. I selected all shooting locations personally. Since I’m the only one who knew the area thoroughly.
Does audience need to know sign language to understand the movie?
I realized that it would be difficult for the general audience to understand literally what the characters are talking about, but the idea was that the whole story is comprehensible and did not let go until the last frame. The movie has pretty stiff story line. “Tribe” can be seen even as a western in some point of view.
At that age – we have actors from 19 to 23 years old – a person today may be interested in acting, and tomorrow switch passion to a sports, studies, whatever comes in hand. But I need actors for six-months shooting. Therefore, we haven’t searched actors by photographs or persuaded someone to participate. Willing was an important selection criterion: we knew that we will depend on these people and we had to be sure they are trustworthy.
I came across the leading actress, Yana, accidentally. She is studying in Gomel and takes pantomime classes. She has ambitions to become an actress. Yana arrived in Kiev on a casting in pop-circus school, for a special section for deaf actors. I also came to this casting, to cast completely different girl, more sexy-looking. That’s how i originally imagined our main character. Yana is different6 she’s sort of Belarusian Audrey Hepburn. During this casting, where I came with the cameraman, I suddenly realized that I was looking not at sexy girl, but at Yana. She had that amazing energy coming from her. Two weeks later, Yana has come to us on the set. You know, she’s just fantastic. She died at the site, and then revived. All she was doing she did with absolute dedication. We celebrated her 20th birthday on set.
Did you write the script without any dialogue and in sign language?
We had some problems with the leading actress, Yana, in the sex scenes. She came to us from the small town of Gomel Belarus. And she was slightly conservative. Fortunately, my friend Denis Ivanov, owner of the largest Ukrainian company-distributor of arthouse cinema “Arthouse Traffic ” had just released “La Vie d’Adele” by Abdellatif Kechiche. What is important, the film was screened with subtitles. It is very important for a deaf person. We sent the actress to see the film, accompanied by team of assistants who put her under merciless psychological pressure. Thus, we were able to legalize her a nudity in her eyes. After some time I was told by assistants, that she erased an lipstick inscription on the mirror in her bathroom, “I want to marry that kinda guy” and wrote “I want to get a Palm D’or in Cannes”. She became a fan of the film, joined the all «La Vie d’Adele» fan communities in social networks, watched all movies with Adele and Lea, and all Kechiche works too. She was the only one out of entire crew, who really believed we will be in Cannes.