Farrokh Ghaffari (1921–2006) directed Zanburak just a couple of years after Pier Paolo Pasolini finished his “Trilogy of Life” — The Decameron (1971), The Canterbury Tales (1972), and Arabian Nights (1974). Though Ghaffari never intended to make his last film as a response to this trilogy — especially the third film, which was shot partly in Isfahan, Iran — Pasolini’s experiment with the Persian narrative model of stories-within-stories in Arabian Nights draws comparisons with Zanburak. Actually, for Ghaffari — who was an avid filmgoer, was the first person to open a cinémathèque in Iran, established the National Iranian Film Society, and was affiliated with Cinémathèque Française and a close friend of Henri Langlois — Pasolini’s film was not a model, but maybe a trigger to make one of the most Iranian films of our history. Zanburak took a road less traveled by selecting Iranian narrative devices such as the aforementioned stories-within-stories,  Pardeh-Khani (reciting stories based on detailed, narrative paintings), and Iranian fine arts like Persian miniature — the scene that involves a theatre troupe in the middle of the film is a good example — as a model for its visual elements.

This episodic road movie tells a story of an accidental friendship between three men after an attack in a caravansary: a simple-minded commoner (played by the legendary Parviz Sayyad) who is responsible for a falconet (the titular zanburak) and who went astray from his legion; a righteous champ (Enayat Bakhshi); and a young dreamer (Nozar Azadi) looking for a cave of treasures. Each goes his way after the attack, but they’ll surely meet again and again. This episodic story contains bawdy folk tales — look closely at the scene in which an old merchant’s unfaithful young wife double crosses her husband and sleeps with two different men — and slapstick comedy. Although the film takes place in ancient times, characters talk like typical Iranians in the 1970s, using then contemporary idioms and slang. By doing this, Ghaffari bridges Iran of yesterday and today, showcasing a country always crippled by opportunists, lousy commanders, contradictions on all levels, debauchery, larceny, and an illiterate and ignorant mass who only think about satiating both their hunger and sexual desires.

I got the chance to watch Zanburak a couple of months ago at Iranian Artists Forum, and while watching the film in a state of absolute awe, felt the film was as fresh as Miguel Gomes’ Arabian Nights (2015). Farrokh Ghaffari was at least a decade or two ahead of his time, and he never received the respect and recognition he deserved, neither in nor outside Iran, and I hope someday we compensate for such unforgivable neglect.

(originally published at Kinoscope)

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