Friday, 8 July 2016

Brick and Mirror (Ebrahim Golestan, 1963-64)

Written for the catalogue of Il Cinema Ritrovato, published in June 2016.

Iran, 1963-64, Directed by: Ebrahim Golestan

International title.: Brick and Mirror. Alternative international title.: Mudbrick and Mirror. Screenplay.: Ebrahim Golestan. DoP.: Soleiman Minassian. Edit.: Ebrahim Golestan. Cast.: Zackaria Hashemi (Hashem), Taji Ahmadi (Taji), Jalal Moghadam (verbose man in the cafe), Masoud Faghih (pistachio-eating man in the cafe), Parviz Fannizadeh (gay man in the cafe), Manouchehr Farid (the policeman), Mohammad Ali Keshavarz (the mugged doctor), Jamshid Mashayekhi (policeman with broken arm), Mehri Mehrnia (the madwoman in the ruins), Pari Saberi (the nurse), Akbar Meshkin (the man in the court and on TV), Forough Farrokhzad (taxi passenger). Production.: Golestan Film Studio.

[The film is also known as The Brick and the Mirror which is clearly wrong as here brick and mirror are abstract concepts and the combination of them produces a different meaning, as in cat and mouse. Another incorrect way of calling the film is Khesht va ayeneh. Avoid both!]

World premiere: 1964
Iranian premiere: 1966

[The year of production given in filmographies and books, 1965, is not correct.]


Iranian cinema’s first true modern masterpiece, Brick and Mirror explores fear and responsibility in the aftermath of the Coup.

With its title alluding to a poem by Attar ("What the old can see in a mudbrick/youth can see in a mirror."), Golestan's first feature mixes dream and reality, responding to the changing climate of Iranian society, the failure of intellectuals and corruption in all walks of life. In a rare use of direct sound in the Iranian cinema of the 60s, with minute attention given to environmental sound (emphasised by the lack of score) which complements the claustrophobic use of widescreen.

The film’s production began in the spring of 1963 with a small crew of five, and without a finished script. The only written part – the driver and the woman in the ruins – became the basis for the first shoot, followed by improvised scenes in the vegetable market of Tehran. The breakage of the anamorphic lens during the shooting of a scene in the Palace of Justice delayed production. On June 5, 1963, while the crew awaited the shipment of a new lens from France, a protest arose against the arrest of Ayatollah Khomeini.This added to the atmosphere of tension and fear depicted in the film.

Ebrahim Golestan directing Taji Ahmadi and Zackaria Hashemi for the longest sequence of the film, running for forty minutes.
With production resumed, the sequence in Hashem's room (comprising 40 minutes of the completed film) took five weeks to shoot, followed by a four-week shoot for the precinct and orphanage scenes. The film was premiered on January 12, 1966 at the Radio City cinema in Tehran. It played there for three weeks, but was dismissed by critics as “arty” and “pretentious”.  Those who saw Brick and Mirror as a realist film were baffled by the long soliloquies given by characters. Jonathan Rosenbaum has described the spirit of the film as "a mix of Dostoyevsky and expressionism". The soliloquy form reflects both Golestan's regard for Orson Welles and the oral storytelling and frequent use of metaphor in Persian culture. -- Ehsan Khoshbakht

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