Friday, October 7, 2011

Iranian Film Season Oct 8th – 26th

Before revolution comes revelation. After comes realisation. In trying to understand the protests and demonstrations that shook Iran in 2009 we are faced with a number of questions. Social media may have provided us with documents of the immediacy of protest but little in the way of analysis.

This season of films provides background, context and meaning to the events of 2009. What links the films on show is their commitment to social justice, dignity, freedom, respect and equality. They are calls for reform rather than revolution, at the centre of which lies the complicated position of women in Iranian society.
Jafar Panahi’s The Circle opens the season and is a searing indictment of a society in freefall. Yet the overwhelming tone of despair and despondency evident throughout is constantly undercut by stoicism and quiet defiance. This is beautifully realised in a scene near the end of the film when a prostitute is being taken to a police station. Her resigned, defiant, sad and vacant eyes, a symbol of a fallen world in which all are implicated.

The Circle

This theme is continued in Offside which exposes the absurdities of a system that seems intent on trying to control all aspects of life. It provides a perfect metaphor for the cat-and-mouse game, the split between the private and public persona, and the muddling through and ignoring of rules that constitutes daily life in the Islamic Republic. Both films whilst lauded on the international scene (Circle won The Golden Lion at Venice 2000 and Offside won a Silver Bear in Berlin 2006) were banned in Iran.

Equally as controversial, similarly lauded abroad, yet screened in Iran, (becoming box office hits in the process), are two films by Rassul Sadr Ameli, The GirlIn The Sneakers and I Am Taraneh, IAm 15 Years Old. He (an open supporter of the Green Movement who refused to have his films shown at the Fajr Film Festival in protest at the government crackdown) is no less a controversial figure than Panahi, yet his work has suffered less at the hand of the censor.

I Am Taraneh, I Am Fifteen Years Old

Part of the reason for this may lie in the fact that his films operate according to what might be deemed to be ‘more acceptable’ forms of social criticism. I Am Taraneh, I Am 15 in its tackling of a contentious issue such as teenage pregnancy does so in such a way that whilst it calls for the rights and freedom of the individual to be respected it could also be read to endorse official state values in its promotion of Islamic morals and motherhood.

Our Times

If the emergence of women in front of the cameras is startling then their appearance behind it as vanguards of a new and vibrant form of filmmaking is even more so. Rakhshan Bani-Etemad’s work reflects the contradictions of the Islamic Republic and its cinema. She combines deep psychological probing with a documentary infused style to examine pressing social concerns. Using the plight of women as a focal point she constructs a picture of a society where families are betrayed, mothers are abandoned and promises are meaningless. An active supporter of the Green Movement, OurTimes is a return to her documentary roots in response to the restrictions placed on filmmakers in their attempts to cover the tumultuous events.

This is a season of committed filmmaking that places cinema as a voice of critical conscience. It is essential viewing for anyone with an interest in Iran or cutting edge cinema.

Dr Eric Egan

Dr Eric Egan is the author of The Films of Makhmalbaf: Cinema, Politics, and Culture in Iran. He has written extensively on Iranian cinema as well as on Third Cinema, Egyptian cinema, Pakistani cinema and early silent cinema. He has recently contributed to the book Film in the Middle East and North Africa Creative Dissidence. He has taught film studies at both undergraduate and post graduate level in England and Ireland.

IFI's Iranian Film Season runs between October 8th - 26th. Full details of the films in the season can be found [here]. 

Attention: owing to the circumstances beyond our control we are unable to screen The Girl in the Sneakers, as programmed on Sunday October 16th at 13.20. This screening will be replaced with A Separation, a Golden Bear winner of the Berlin Film Festival. 
For more information on the film, please click [here].

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