Book Review

The New Iranian Cinema

Politics, representation and identity

Ed: Richard Tapper. IB Taurus London, 2002

Iranian cinema is triumphant in the international film festival circuit. The Iranian cinema is in deep crisis. Both are true and interlinked realities about film and film-making in Iran today. This remarkable book goes some way to explain this apparent paradox.

In its early days the Islamists were intensely opposed to the cinema which they saw as spearheading the Shah and the West’s cultural assault on the country. Hamid Naficy expresses it as subscribing to a ‘hypodermic theory’ of ideology, the mere injection of which transforms an ‘ethical’ being into a corrupt ‘subject’. Perhaps the most vivid, and repulsive, illustration of this hatred is the torching of Cinema Rex in Abadan when over 600 of the trapped audience burned to death. In the course of the revolution 195 of the 525 cinemas were demolished - 32 in Teheran alone.

Yet within less than two decades Iranian cinema is being hailed as the new wave, earning laurels at one international film festival after another and labelled by the director of the New York Film Festival in 1992 as “one of the most exciting in the world today”. What caused this transformation form pariah to the pedestal?

Islamisation

Iranian cinema began with such films as Ovanes Organian’s Abi and Rabi (1930) and Ardeshir Irani’s The Lor Girl (1933). Dariush Mehrjui’s Cow (1970), however, catapulted it into the international film circuit. For a brief period in the late 1960’s early 70’s such directors as Mehrju’i, Bahram Beyza’i, Parviz Kimiavi, Masoud Kimia’i, and Sohrab Shahid-Sales etc became international art house names. Subsequently, in the years leading up to the revolution, Iranian cinema went into decline, with foreign films dominating the domestic market.

In the years 1978-82 the Islamist revolutionaries attempted to “Islamise” the cinema. Soon after the Islamists vanquished other pretenders to the revolution even films about the revolution were banned. The secular left’s participation in the revolutionary upheavals had to be erased. So The Fall of 57 by Barbod Taheri popular in 1980 was banned in 1984.

The combination of suspicion of the medium and the purging of filmmakers, especially those working with the Shah’s radio-television network, caused a sharp fall in investment and production. Imported films continued to dominate the cinemas that survived the torch, many of which catered for the revolutionary spirit of the time: Costa-Garvas Z and State of Siege; Guzman‘s Battle of Chile. Pontecorovo’s Battle of Algiers was screened in 22 cinemas simultaneously - 12 in Teheran.

The new regime, however, quickly understood the power of cinema as propaganda. In 1982 detailed regulations on Islamising the cinema were passed and the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance (MICG) entrusted with their implementation. The restrictions were formidable. Forbidden were films that question, alter or negate:

Monotheism and submission to God and his laws.

The role of Revelation (vahy) in creation and in law.

The continuity of religious leadership (emamat).

The machinery of censorship were draconian. Until 1989 MCIG reviewed the synopsis, approved the screenplay, vetted the cast and crew by name, then reviewed the completed film and issued certificate, specifying precisely which in cinemas it could be shown. Between 1980-2 only 25% of 202 screenplays passed this hurdle.

State control was complete. The Farabi Cinema Foundation (FCF) was set up to regulate import, production and distribution of film and became the most powerful agency for film production, distribution and even import and export. Confiscated assets of persons linked with the previous regime were organised under such state owned institutions as the Foundation of the Disinherited (Bonyade Mostaz’afin) which controlled 15% of all the industry in the country and US$10 billion in land alone. By mid 1983, 137 cinemas (half of those functioning) were run by the Bonyad, though by 1987 it was down to 80 – because of shortage of foreign films with appropriate Islamic values. They too began to assist in ‘Islamically committed’ local production (With MCIG and FCF). The House of Cinema was another corporate state organisation.

Censorship

Iranian filmmakers faced a censorship that was in may ways unique. Not only were certain political subjects out of bounds, and there operated an ideological straitjacket when it came to the role of religion, but the filmmaker was faced with a totally paralysing set of rules. They could not show any intimacy, no matter how trivial, between male and female, even between married couples or parent-children – the actors were by definition not immediate relatives (na-mahram).

Moreover, women had to be in Islamic hejab (covering) even when portrayed at home – since the viewer was intruding into what is in effect a private sphere. Solutions such as the lead actor and actress getting temporary marriage would not do, since this would not take account of the film crew. The Islamic ideology’s belief that seeing corruption is itself corrupting resulted in the absurd situation where the filmmaker could not actually show “corruption” in a film whose theme was the corruption of the Shah’s regime. Pre-revolutionary women would appear in full Islamic gear and could not be shown drinking alcohol.

Hamid Nafisy (chapter 2) paints the convolutions of the policy of Islamising the cinema beautifully. Many filmmakers avoided problems by self censorship such as avoiding certain topics, or by not giving women a big role or even using children as surrogate adults. Another form of self censorship was on politics. The new regime bas bent on producing a new utopia and sought new sources of legitimacy, almost exclusively populist and authoritarian. But as Ali Reza Haghighi argues (chapter 6), the cinema never engaged with the most fundamental issues such as the structure of political power. Not even in propaganda films. There were a few exceptions such as Makhmalbaf’s Wedding of the blessed (1989), and The Glass Agency By Ebrahim Hatamikia (1998). Even in war films the ‘ideological, charismatic and populist characteristics of the political system are raised in the context of the war and not as political criticism’ Haghighi writes and these films ‘belong to the war genre rather than political genre’.

For Haghighi this has been a perennial problem: political debates in Iran in the past have been over ‘progress, religion and the West’. Haghighi misses out democracy, and undoubtedly the specific issue of democracy has been absent in the dominant political discourses of the country. Indeed even when lip service was given to it, its deeper meaning, of a pluralistic discourse and existence, was missing.

Iranian films remain focused on the ‘West’ rather than ‘modernity’ – and modernity becomes nothing more than ‘copying the West’. The themes are taken up by films on emigration to the west, and critiques of the materialistic lifestyles. With few exceptions (Hamoon, Mehrju’I,1990 or Bread and Poetry, Kiumars Pourahmad, 1994) the debate is trivialised. Government commissioned films portray development as “industry or agriculture” with no mention to the obstacles to their realisation. Yet Haghighi too has a inadequate view of development, seeing it in cultural and not in its global context – the development of underdevelopment through the neo-liberal globalisation project. What is clear in this and other chapters in the book, when it comes to politics, Iranian cinema is in a veil, addressing issues of yesteryear – there is little development of the causes of underdevelopment. And if there is a serious criticism of the book, it is that it also addresses these issues in a superficial way.

Haghighi ends his chapter with the changes in the intellectual discourse in Iran over the last few years: ‘progress’ and the ‘West’ had metamorphosed to ‘development’ and ‘modernity’ and both entwined with the issue of ‘religion’. This bond is new compared to the previous generation of intellectuals. The language, Haghighi insists, is changing from the literary-metaphoric to the academic-scientific, and democracy has entered the discourse alongside that of a new generation of religious intellectualism. What Haghighi fails to notice is that notions of democracy are, at their best, at a level not incompatible with Bush’s New Empire. Yet even at this level, film remains impervious in the main to this discourse.

The strict censorship eased a little after December 1987. But even then it was open to negotiation. For example Mehrju’i’s The Tenants (1986) and Hamoon (1990) had endings that contradict the body of the film. If they refuse, as happened with Makhmalbaf’s A Time to Love (1991), the film was shelved or only allowed to be shown abroad. Indeed we have a number of films which did not obtain permits inside the country, but were given export permits to enter international film festivals. But even here censorship is inconsistent. May Lady by Rakhshan Bani-Etemad (1998) got through but her contribution to Stories of Kish (1999) did not.

Moreover you could circumvent censorship by one state organ by being the protégée of another, rival, organ. The structure of the regime, with the two interlocking pyramids, one, a virtual caliphate spreading downwards from the supreme leader and the other a republic reaching up from organs elected by popular vote turned the regime into myriads of fiefdoms. There were the Arts Centre [Howzeh Honari of the Islamic Propaganda Organisation] and the National Radio-Television Network which came under the direct control of the supreme leader. The MCIG on the other hand, answers to an elected president (though here too, as in all organs, the caliphate has its “political commissar”). Neither can censor the others products. Similar parallel institutions control export, choice of themes, choice of directors etc.

Women airbrushed

Self censorship operated best when it came to political issues and women. Even with the relative thaw of in 1987 women were rarely subjects. Naficy lists the themes of films produced in 1987: moralising (20 including ‘art’ films like Kiarostami’s Where is the Friend’s House?); anti-Shah and the counter-revolution (15), the war (12). In only 3 of 37 films were women the main central character and in a further 7 they shared this with men. In 25 films central characters were men.

In an interesting article Shahla Lahiji (chapter 11) expands on the almost total absence of any “realistic portrayal of women” not just in the early post revolutionary years but in Iranian cinema’s entire history. In the years leading up to the revolution the genre that came to be known as film farsi, lumpen-cabaret as Lahiji calls it, portrayed women as ‘unchaste dolls’. Even such progressive directors as Massoud Kimia’i (Qeysar, 1969) presented women as a battleground for honour. The Iranian New Wave films of the late 1960’s ‘assumed a posture of confronting vulgarity and, by an insidious piece of cultural fraud, threw women off the cabaret stage into the attic’. A ‘good woman’ was a ‘faceless unexciting figure who wore traditional costume and stayed in the background.’ These ‘good women’ were the crude prototypes of the ‘chaste dolls’ of cinema and television.

There were, as always exceptions. Beyza’i’s The Crow (1977) and Tara’s Ballad (1978) were contemporaneous with revolutionary upheavals and were never screened. Both have strong women as heroes. Beyza’i’s Downpour (1972) however was screened and acclaimed.

In the immediate post-revolutionary cinema women simply disappeared, and when they reappeared it was as someone’s mother, sister or wife – a passive bystander, or a mother-sister-wife weeping at her ‘man’s’ departure for war. Yesteryear’s ‘unchaste-doll’ becomes a ‘faithless treacherous hussy’ with no faith in religion or revolution and wearing a ‘less strict hejab’. They are pictured as ‘selfish, illogical, domineering, highly emotional and jealous’ contrasted with their ‘wise, noble, humble’ menfolk. The good woman was a submissive, long suffering, kitchen-bound creature, ever ready to unquestionably sacrifice everything for her male superiors.

With this backdrop Beysa’i’s Bashu the Little Stranger (1988) broke new ground. Bayza’i not only centralised the role of Nai’ the Gilaki woman, who adopts a war orphan whose language she cannot understand against the opposition of her husband and almost the entire village, but confronted the thorny issue of the multinational nature of Iran.

Soon women ‘who could not be portrayed properly in front of the cameras took position behind it’. Women directors challenged the role hitherto allocated to them in film and in society in such films as Rakhshan Bani Etemad’s Nargess (1992), The Blue Scarf (1994) and The May Lady (1998) and Tahmineh Milani’s Two Women (1999). Male directors followed suite by centralising women in their films: Sara (Dariush Mehrju’i, 1992) and Zinat (Ebrahim Mokhtari, 1994). Even Kiarostami who simply avoided women, turned to them in his later films – especially 10 (2002). But Lahiji is right to call it a ‘hit and miss affair’. Mehrju’i sets a childless woman in Leyla (1997) to find a second wife for her husband. In Tootia (Iraj Qaderi, 1998) a working woman neglects her duties to her family. The road ahead is long and bumpy.

Festivals

Kiarostami avoidance of women and in general the political escapism in his films is a shrewd way of catering to the film festival taste for high art and restrained politics. This point is made by Azadeh Farahmand in an excellent chapter. In focusing on film festivals both artists and the Islamic regime have a shared interest. Film festivals create venues for financial success at a time when the industry is in a financial mess. According to Hossein Ghazian (chapter 4) the Iranian cinema despite success is in deep financial crisis. State aid has merely made the crisis worse. Sales cannot meet costs. 40-50 films are being produced every year but cinema attendance has fallen to 0.79 per person per year. Foreign investment has therefore been crucial. Festivals open the way for revenue and foreign investment.

 

Due to the promotional work of the Farabi Cinema Foundation annual international appearances of Iranian films rose from 35 in the ten years after the 1979 revolution to nearly 850 in 1999 (fig 1). In 1997-8 alone Iranian films won over 100 awards. Success by such directors as Kiarostami, Mehrjuii, Makhmalbaf, Bani-Etamad, Majidi, Milani, and Beyza’i has had its financial rewards. Makhmalbaf’s Salaam Cinema (1995) was already doing the Paris circuits while being screened in Cannes. The White Baloon (Ja’far Panahi, 1995), among many other films, did very well in the US. The indigenous film industry, despite state help, could not survive without the foreign film circuit. Marco Mueller who ran the Locarno film festival from 1991 to 2000, and where Kiarostami’s Where is the Friend’s House won 5 prizes in 1988 and started the Iranian film festival bonanza, helped finance among others Samira Makhmalbaf’s Blackboard (1999), and Makhmalbaf’s Gabbeh (1996).

International film festivals have also made possible the ‘emergence of an inchoate, independent, auteurist cinema that is independent from Iranian tastes, commercial concerns and government control’ Naficy stresses. This has caused some caustic comments both within and outside the country. Kiarostami and others are blamed at home for making films for the foreigner. Indeed some films were made for the foreign market – Makhmalbaf’s Gabbeh (1996), funded by MK2, is a case in point. It is also widely believed inside Iran, and in opposition circuits abroad, that local banning of films is a ploy to encourage medals and sales abroad.

Moreover, the Islamic regime sees international festivals as a way of escaping its isolation. There were undoubted political gains, despite Hamid Naficy’s assertion that these successes did not translate into political prestige for the Islamic government. Festivals were consciously used as part of the diplomatic cat and mouse game with the Islamic regime. Take the case of The Taste of Cherry (Kiarostami, 1997). It was banned in Iran and missed the entry deadline for Cannes. Yet it was shipped out in the last minute and won the Palm d’Or at Cannes just before Khatami’s landslide presidential victory on a “reformist” ticket. Majid Majidi’s Children of Heaven (1998) entered American Academy awards and was nominated for Best Foreign Film, coinciding with the US-Iranian soccer match in the world cup and Khatami’s speech to the UN on the dialogue of civilisations. Here are echoes of the ‘ping pong diplomacy’ that smoothed the way for Sino-American thaw. An organisation, Search for Common Ground, founded in Washington DC in 1984, has used films and cultural exchange to draw the two countries together.

Iranian film makers in exiles are, to a great extent, excluded from these accolades. Yet over 300 fiction and non-fiction films have been produced in two decades under horrendous circumstances – more than any other Middle eastern exile group in the West. Naficy calls this an “accented cinema”, reflecting the pains and pleasures of multiple identities, and produced in the interstices of dominant culture ad film industries, using an artisanal mode of production. They remain squeezed ‘between rocks and hard places’ unrecognised and unappreciated.

In labour

The most interesting chapter belongs to Hamid Dabashi’s charting of Makhbalbaf’s metamorphosis from an anti-modernist Islamist to the world-acclaimed artist he is today. Dabashi’s argument in précis follows Heidegger’s thesis that technological modernity, a child of European Enlightenment and its twin project Capitalist Modernity, reduces everything, including all things human, to their use–value and is in its very essence colonial. The ‘decisive confrontation’ [Heidegger] with this essence of technology is only possible in colonial sites [peripheral countries] and not Europe. Islamism, and its ‘curious’ ideological kin National Socialism, are ‘both necessary and inevitable mythical responses to identical moments of crisis at the receiving end of the project Capitalist Modernity’. The construction of mystical and imaginary Golden Ages ‘seems to be the first, dangerously fictive but nevertheless necessary, step towards the transformation of the substance of the danger into poetic material of rebellion against it.’ Note the use of the word ‘necessary’ and ‘inevitable’.

Dabashi goes on: ‘Islamism, as a liberation theology, has been a form of ideological resistance to the colonial extension of the project Technological Modernity, in which we have invested all of our ancestral faith in exchange for a site of ideological resistance to colonialism, and thus it is in its entirety a colonial product.’ But surely he cannot simultaneously label this Islam as a ‘necessary’ and ‘inevitable’ ‘liberation theology’ while quite correctly seeing it as a product of colonialism, an ideology that it [colonialism] made possible, ‘thoroughly rooted in it’, and one that is the ‘most effective form of self-colonisation’. Can liberation theology be rooted in the very enslaving project it aims to liberate? And what makes such a dead-end be necessary and inevitable? Dabashi also writes ‘Islamism, both the saving power and yet itself the very nature of the danger, was a particularly powerful ideological apparatus, not because it was so radically different from colonialism, but because it was so thoroughly rooted in it’. The issue seems to be his misunderstanding of the concept of liberation.

The Islamist-revolutionary Makhmalbaf did not recognise that the ideological mode of resistance to cultural colonialism he advocated is itself the most effective form of self-colonisation. Franz Fanon or Ali Shari’ati also failed to see the “native” and “traditional” mode as something of itself deeply colonial. The Makhmalbaf, the Islamist, was savagely attacking artists who had worked under the Pahlavi regime. His early films such as film Nasuh’s Repentence [1982] are ‘didactic, his visual diction sermon-laden, his attitude moralizing.’ His film scripts Justification (1981), Fortress in Fortress (1982) and Someone Else’s Death is ‘prosaic, bordering on banality’. All the films up to Boycott (1985) can be trashed, Dabashi writes. But ‘in the depth of this prosaic banality, this celebration of vacuous piety, something is brewing in him’. Beneath this pompous emptiness is a restless mind. Makhmalbaf’s ‘creative body is captivated by a spell. He does not know it but he is in labour.’

Ideological murk

in 1981 while Beyza’i was making Yazdegerd’s Death, about the last Sasanian king killed by the invading Arab-Muslim armies, Makhmalbaf was busy with Two Sightless Eyes – a virulently anti left film. When this was released the last of the secular groups – Tudeh - was being eradicated. When Hasan Hedayat was making a film about Mirza Kuchek Khan, The Jungle Messenger (1982) about a revolutionary leader in the Mazendaran Jungles who in alliance with the Bolsheviks was opposing feudal rule Makhmalbaf was producing Seeking Refuge, a cinematic disaster to Dabashi, examining the ‘Nature of Evil’ but itself ‘a very epitome of evil’.

It was indeed ‘nothing short of a miracle’ that Makhmalbaf could save himself after ‘such a malignant catastrophe.’ But these catastrophes are not entirely his. They are ‘the roster of a cultural register of mental malaise which has afflicted us Iranians as people for ages.’ Makhmalbaf has to ‘pass through this valley of dead certainties to reach a salutary summit of living doubts.’ The young Makhmalbaf’s films, despite the preaching, also show ‘evidence of preoccupation with principles such as truth, morality, conviction, social commitment and a proclivity towards philosophical abstraction.’ He served the Islamic Republic’s propaganda machinery, yet unknown to himself and his ideological cohorts, Makhmalbaf is a Trojan Horse. He had to pass through ‘the danger in order to reach the poetic saving power now paramount in his cinema.’ He is a ‘spectacular example of restless honesty, with the real literally pulling the artist out of mystifying misery of casting a metaphysical gaze on an already brutalised world.’ ‘A far more universal trap’ for many Iranian artists Dabashi asserts is ‘historical collapse into essentialist mysticism’ . Examples are Mehrjui’s films after the death of his collaborator Gholam-Hossein Sa’edi, such as The Pear Tree (1998).

In Baghe Bolur 1984-5, a work of fiction, Dabashi observes Makhmalbaf metamorphosing into light. He ‘reaches the hidden corners of cultural catastrophes, realities that are ordinarily hidden from the blinkered eye of moral formalism, political absolutism, ideological conviction.’ Earlier ‘flat certainties’ give way to a ‘universe of painstakingly sculptured characters, the living memories of a culture in crisis.’ The book is dedicated to the ‘women, the tyrannised women of this land’.

By removing himself from the corner he had painted himself into, Makhmalbaf found a ‘solid material base for his creative imagination’ and defies the counter/colonial constitution of all revolutionary ideologies, including Islamism. He does not issue creative cheques that he cannot cash. The fundamental problem of Iranian art in the 20th Century – its quintessential disjunction from its material condition – is solved by an excruciating passage through the material hell of that society.

Dabashi is careful to excludes such artists as Nima Yushij, Hedayat, Sa’edi and Bayza’i all of which have liberating and emancipatory thrusts in them. But Makhmalbaf did not emerge from a “secularist” response to cultural colonialism. ‘He was a Muslim activist and he had to conquer his own demons.’ Makhmalbaf’s art is ‘superior because it emerged from the dirt and mud of culture and then, by sheer power of creative imagination, reached for emancipation in terms domestic to the miseries of that culture’

Haunted by ghosts

No anthology of Iranian films in complete without war films. These formed the main diet during the 8-year war with Iraq. It was not just war propaganda but also a major ideological vehicle for the central tenet of Shi’ite mythology – the martyrdom of Imam Hossein [grandson of the prophet] and most of his immediate family at the hands of the Ummayid Caliph Yazid outside the city of Karbela. Nothing expresses the mystical core of the Shi’ite better, or explains its obsession with martyrdom more cogently. Hossein is an icon that represents both Shi’ite particularism in confrontation with the dominant Sunni branch of Islam and also, curiously, Iranian nationalism in confrontation with the larger Arab presence. Not surprisingly, therefore, many of the war films faded into the tradition of ta’ziyeh plays –popular Shi’ite passion plays on the Hossein-Karbela theme. Roxanne Varzi (chapter 8) is correct to points out that in many films there is an ‘attempt to make the war itself a performance of ta’siyeh’.

The other central issue of war is the ambiguity of life and death. Scent of Yusef’s Shirt (Ebrahim Hatamikia, 1996) is about ghosts that haunt a society – a family coping with a missing son, husband or brother. The ghosts are those missing in action, unidentified bodies, though ‘even without these there are enough ghosts in Iran to haunt the waiting family’. The prisoner of war are more than hidden saints, they are the leftovers, the excesses of war. The ones most disturbing are those who leave only a trace, for whom there can be no true burial, no bodily evidence of death, only anonymous ghosts.

It is therefore a shame that Varzi did not make the obvious analogy with those apparently on the other side , the family of executed political prisoners. They too have ghosts they cannot lay to rest. And so many families are haunted by ghosts on both sides of the political divide. Varzi quotes Derrida: nothing can be worse for the work of mourning than the confusion of doubt…. The act of closure requires that ‘he remains [buried] there, and move[s] no more.’ The absence of closure for so many is a major source of psychological imbalance on a global scale in post-revolutionary Iran.

Hatamikia is particularly taken by this theme. In his From Karkeh to the Rhine [1993] he uses video to create the visual ambiguity of the absence using different unexpected types of return: videos, dogtags, ghosts and exiles from abroad. The returning exile Shirin comes back and waits for a brother that she knows deep down is dead. The exile returns to the homeland by the pull of the absent ghost. Here, as in most films produced inside Iran the exile is seen as an outsider. Varzi writes that ‘every Iranian takes part in mourning’ and that ‘the war binds Iranians’. Shirin is an Iranian only through the ghost of her brother dying in battle. This is simply wrong. What binds a nation is much more than mere land, it is also shared values. And until our ghosts, those who died on both sides of the social divide, merge the deep chasm between the inside and the outside will persist. If as Varzi perceptively notes ‘mourning is inherently critical’, it is this divide that it must direct its criticism to.

The little stranger

Other chapters describe Ziba Mir Hosseini’s saga in filming Divorce Iranian Style and the many obstacles and the incomprehensions she had to overcome, and not just in Iran, but among the exiled community. Mir Hosseini’s also showed her own ambivalence regarding the public image of the Islamic republic abroad, an ambiguity deep in Iranian nationalist culture – expressed so poignantly in the saying ‘keep your cheeks red by slapping them’.

Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa devotes chapter 10 to location and cultural identity. The use of exotic locations, she emphasises, is on the one hand a low budget, exotic and ideologically charged Iranian challenge to the high-tech digitalised computer generated imaginary settings of Hollywood. The other, and I believe deeper, explanation is that location is used as a surrogate for circumventing the stifling censors.

Bani-Etemad (Nargess, 1992) places the blame of the evil habits of the main character in society by portraying them through urban public spaces – bazaars, streets, traffic, administrative offices or residential buildings. Directors avoid interior scenes, mainly to side step the limitations in the compulsory hejab and the ban on person-to-person physical contact. In Gabbeh Makhmalbaf has to use exchanged looks , and a distant shot of horse riders to allude to the lovers going off together. Often non-Iranian locations are used to depict forbidden emotions – adultery or love. For many exiled the film makers home is where the characters are not - Shahid-Sales Roses for Africa (1991) Utopia (1982) and Diary of a Lover (1977). In Manhattan by Numbers (Naderi 1993) the main character searches among the homeless for his lost friend.

Similarly children are used as miniature adults to circumvent censorship. Children can make social commentary, or even have physical contact, without offending the audience and censors. Hamid Reza Sadr (chapter 12) emphasises the political content of children in film. ‘Unlike film stars, who embody and dramatise the flow of information, and hence depoliticise modes of attachment in their audience’ he writes ‘children represent the real world. .. they mark audience awareness of itself as a class by reconstituting social differences in the audience into a new polarity of collective experience’.

Nasrin Rahimieh extends an entire chapter to Bashu the Little Stranger (Beyza’i 1988) to explore issues of gender and ethnic differences in Iran. This is a remarkable article on a truly remarkable film which is simultaneously a critique of Fars nationalism and gender inequalities. This Beyza’i does by overcoming ethnic incomprehensions, tensions and prejudices through the agency of a peasant woman. These are the two central issues facing Iranian society today. Bahram Beyzai, as always ahead, has led the way to address them.

 

M Shakhak

June 2003

 

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