The poetic humanism of Iranian cinema
Iranian screenwriter and director Asghar Farhadi won Iran’s first Oscar in 2012, and a decade later his last feature film, A hero, is now one of the main contenders for the title of best international film. Such recognition for Iranian films is neither new nor unusual, as the country has always produced stellar, stimulating and human-centered cinema that has captivated critics and moviegoers alike.
A hero (Gahareman in Persian), Farhadi’s fourth film, was also nominated for a 2022 Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film. It made its international premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in July 2021, where it won the Grand Prix.
The drama is about a man who is imprisoned for a debt he is unable to repay. He tries to persuade his creditor to dismiss the lawsuit against him during a two-day break from his sentence, but then things get out of hand.
Farhadi’s work engages with sensitive social and cultural elements that not only expose the audience to personal and societal fault lines, but also provide a strong critique of the theocracy, gender, and class politics of the country. Much like his famous predecessors, Farhadi focuses on humans and their moral dilemmas. His films are a snapshot of life that simultaneously reflect a larger reality.
“A hero also proves, once again, that if Farhadi the director and screenwriter is never less than a talented craftsman of sophisticated melodramas which face both ethical and emotional problems, his work is always richer to unfold in his country of origin, Iran, ”writes film reviewer Lee Marshall in his review of the film. The film has been considered a “thought-provoking” watch and “the filmmaker’s most subtle and heartfelt film since. A separationWhich won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2012, the first Iranian film to win this award.
A separation is recognized as one of the best films of Farhadi and Iran. The plot centers on a family’s problems, with the wife wishing to leave the country with her daughter and the husband insisting on staying in Tehran to care for his elderly father, who has Alzheimer’s disease. Through his nuanced screenplay of a seemingly insurmountable situation, the award-winning director masterfully portrays the issues of migration, religion, generation and class in contemporary Iran.
A human-centered style
This human-centered realistic style has long been the center of Iranian cinema. A wide range of Iranian films have attracted global audiences for their portrayals of social realism and portraying desperate people caught between the demands of tradition and modernity. The tension in the narratives oscillates between personal aspiration and social conformity rooted in a larger political and religious subtext.
Iranian cinema as such has become a gateway to understanding the people and culture of this relatively obscure nation which is otherwise portrayed in the global media through distorted or unrealistic stereotypes. This visual art also resides in a strange contradiction of conflict between the political and the artistic as Iranian filmmakers are forced to go through strict censorship rules while adhering to the nation’s moral, social and religious precepts. The blurring of the distinctions between fiction and non-fiction in Iranian films, as well as the mix of professional and non-actor actors, contributes to their distinctive realism.
Mohsen Makhmalbaf attends the Bresson Awards ceremony during the 72nd Venice Film Festival at Hotel Excelsior on September 7, 2015 in Venice, Italy. (Photo by Vittorio Zunino Celotto / Getty Images)
While Farhadi’s recent films have rekindled interest in Iranian cinema, it was director Abbas Kiarostami who initially caught the attention of moviegoers around the world with his subtle depictions of everyday life.
Kiarostami is arguably Iran’s best-known post-revolutionary filmmaker, widely recognized as one of cinema’s greatest directors and a pioneer of new wave Iranian cinema – a cinematic trend that stands out for its philosophical bent, its criticism. social, its poetic disposition and its vigorous experimentation.
Its cinematic expression had a lyrical beauty and a poetic style that explored philosophical themes seeking to understand the fundamental nature of human existence, although often in abstract depictions.
Kiarostami made his global commercial debut in February 1995 with US film distributor Miramax, who purchased his film. Through the olive trees (Zir-e Derakhtan-e Zeitoon). The film put Kiarostami’s name on the world cinema map and it was Iran’s official submission for the 1995 Oscars. He was acclaimed as “a humanist intellectual of old school cinema” upon release. .
In 1997, Kiarostami won the Palme d’Or in Cannes for his masterpiece Cherry taste, which is a disturbing fable of poetic intensity that revolves around a middle-aged man looking for someone to bury him after his suicide. The protagonist meets three people on his journey: a young impoverished soldier, an Afghan refugee and an eloquent Islamic seminarian, with whom he maintains long dialogues. Eventually, he meets an elderly taxidermist who tells him about his own failed suicide attempt.
The New York Times newspaper, in its review, said that Kiarastomi, unlike any other filmmaker, had a vision “both epic and precisely tiny.” His other great cinematographic works include Where is the friend’s house? (1987), Close (1990), Life, and nothing more … (1992) and The wind will Carry Us (1999).
Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami during a shoot, October 1, 1996 (Photo by Kaveh Kazemi / Getty Images)
When Kiarostami died in 2016, The Guardian newspaper described him as a sophisticated master and master of cinematic poetry, specializing in a kind of realistic parable cinema and one of the great directors of our time. “Abbas Kiarostami was a mysterious and delicate fabulist of human nature and human relations, a filmmaker whose stories were sort of in the real world, but not of the world.” He emphasized this: “His films did not easily convey their meaning; they were full of meditative calm, sadness, thoughtfulness, but also dissent, obliquely stylized confrontation and emotional negotiation – as well as his own playful, elusive humor.
While Kiarostami popularized Iranian cinema on a global scale, it was poet and filmmaker Forough Farrokhzad who, in her brief life, revolutionized the cultural landscape of the country of her time and created a body of work that intertwined the lyrical and the social. In his 22-minute documentary The house is black (1962), she chooses a leper colony as the theme for her one and only film, demonstrating her ability to unite lyricism with raw realism. This combination would characterize a number of works of Iranian cinema from the late 1950s to the mid-1970s.
According to American film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, The house is black is possibly the first Iranian documentary directed by a woman. He says Farrokhzad’s film illustrates the odd and critical point that while Iranians remain among the most vilified people on Earth, Iranian cinema is becoming almost universally recognized as the most ethical and humanistic. “The House Is Black is in my opinion one of the very few successful fusions of literary poetry with cinematic poetry – a mixture which generally invites the worst forms of self-awareness and pretension – and arguably this connection of cinema with literature is a fundamental trait underlying much of the Iranian New Wave, ”says Rosenbaum.
Farrokhzad’s influence finds parallels not only in Kiarostami’s works but also among his greatest contemporaries, including Mohsen Makhmalbaf, who has directed more than twenty films, some of which are still banned in Iran because of their comments. on the Iranian state and people. Makhmalbaf’s films have a deeper philosophical touch while preserving the spirit of realism, and he is often equated with Kiarostami. His cinematic style involves as little “plot” as possible and depicts ordinary, everyday events.
A moment of innocence (1996) is an excellent example of Makhmalbaf’s self-defined term, “poetic realism”. But the filmmaker is best known for Gabbeh (1996), an exquisite fable about the duty and desire of a woman in a nomadic tribe. His 2001 film Kandahar was included in Time magazine’s list of the 100 best films ever made. His other works include Boycott (1985), The cyclist (1987) and The peddler (1989).
Iranian director, producer and screenwriter Majid Majidi speaks during a Master Class (Photo by Emrah Yorulmaz / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Makhmalbaf’s cinematography is deeply tied to Iran’s history and culture, and his initial work shows a clear separation of humans between the good and the bad: the good were the revolutionaries; in the second period, the poor. His later works reflect his more nuanced take on people, culture, and politics, while retaining the distinct humanist and poetic style of Iranian contemporaries like Jafar Panahi and Majid Majidi.
Long before Farhadi, it may have been Majidi who may have won Iran’s first Oscar when his 1997 masterpiece Children of the sky was nominated for an Academy Award. He lost against Roberto Benigni Life is Beautiful, but Majidi’s work has been compared to Vittorio de Sica’s 1948 masterpiece Bicycle thieves.
Majidi, one of Iran’s best-known contemporary directors, uses religion to find meaning in a society transformed by conflict, modernity, economic inequality and nationalism. His characters, who are often marginalized children, neither overcome nor give in to misfortune. On the contrary, they struggle, thrive and therefore reflect a perpetual state of human suffering. His amazing works include The color oF paradise (1997), Baran (2001) and The song of the sparrows (2008).
This article was first published by New frame.