Saturday, 25 July 2015

Night of the Hunchback (Farrokh Ghaffari, 1965)

From my Iranian New Wave programme notes, Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna, 2015. -- EK

Iran, 1965 Regia: Farrokh Ghaffari
T. int.: Night of the Hunchback. Scen.: Farrokh Ghaffari, Jalal Moghaddam. Dial.: Jalal Moghaddam. F.: Gerium Hayrapetian. M.: Ragnar. Mus.: Hossein Malek. Int.: Pari Saberi, Paria Hakemi, Khosro Sahami, Mohamad Ali Keshavarz, Farhang Amiri, Farrokh Ghaffari. Prod.: Iran Nema Studio.

Set over the course of one night, this black comedy focuses on the efforts of a group of stage actors, the father of a bride, and a hairdresser and his assistant (played by Ghaffari himself) to rid themselves of an unwelcome corpse, against the backdrop of uptown Tehranis partying to Ray Charles.

If this pioneering Iranian arthouse film is somehow difficult to pigeonhole, it’s partly due to Farrokh Ghaffari’s own resistance to easy categorisation within Iranian cinema: on the one hand, a true cinephile and intellectual disapproving of a society which he saw as a hotbed of deceit and corruption; on the other hand, a white collar worker at the very institutions which contributed to such cultural backwardness.

Ghaffari lived in Europe from the age of 10. A regular at the Paris Cinémathèque, he befriended Henri Langlois and with his encouragement returned to Iran in 1949 to initiate the Iranian equivalent of the Cinémathèque, Kanoon-e Melli-e Film, which hosted 616 screenings up to the time of the revolution.

After directing various short films, Ghaffari made South of the City influenced by neorealist cinema. Owing to its depiction of poverty it was banned, only to be re-cut a few years later and shown, uncredited, as Rivalry in the City. After the disappointing Who’s the Bride? (1959), Ghaffari adapted a story from 1001 Nights into a contemporary setting, which became Night of the Hunchback. Made on a small budget and screened in February 1965, this Iranian Trouble with Harry with its respect for folklore and its biting portrait of the upper class promised a new beginning for Iranian cinema. Though Hunchback deliberately moved away from the commercial films of the period, it still shared some character types with those of Filmfarsi (Iranian mainstream cinema). Nevertheless the film was a commercial flop, but did well at European festivals where, among others, Georges Sadoul praised the film.

After Hunchback Ghaffari made only one more film (Zanbourak, 1975). During the 1970s he undertook administrative work for various institutions and co-organised the Shiraz Arts Festival. In late 1978, when Ghaffari was screening films by the Lumières, Méliès and Edison in Tehran, the city was only four months shy of the revolution, after which he moved back to Paris where he died in 2006.

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