Monday 21 August 2017

Survival of the Unfit: On Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa’s Jerry & Me

Originally appeared on MUBI Notebook, June 2013. -- EK

Survival of the Unfit: On Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa’s Jerry & Me


A familiar practice in Persian film literature is that of the “cinematic memoir”—personal reminiscences of the film culture of pre-Revolutionary Iran.

Bolstered by a nostalgic tone, these autobiographical texts deal with the themes of childhood, adolescence and encounters with cinema in a Westernized Iran. The authors of such memoirs frequently depict Iran as a haven for cinephiles. Considering the number of films that were shown in pre-Revolutionary Iran and the diversity of their origins, this may be taken as an accurate characterization.

Such melancholic documentations of the past echo the feelings of a generation lost, misplaced and confused after the Revolution; people who are utterly unable to re-situate themselves in the new post-Revolutionary nation and after the trauma of an eight year war. However, this longing for a paradise lost can function as a kind of subjective history of film culture in Iran; while by studying them one would also be able to draw a picture of how Iran responded to Western culture in the period between 1950s and the late 1970s.

Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa, 1980s
Revolutions provide a clear point of reference for grasping the time and space in the nation’s psyche. History—otherwise obscure—becomes deceptively clear and classifiable. With a contemporary revolution written on the pages of a country’s history, everything becomes divided into two very distinctive and clashing modes of aesthetics: before the revolution and after the revolution. These are the terms most frequently used in a revolutionary country—more than “hello” and “goodbye”!

A Woman Under the Influence [On Jerry and Me]

زني تحت تأثير
دربارۀ «جري و من» مستند تازۀ مهرناز سعيدوفا
 كارگردان، فيلم‌نامه‌نويس، تدوين و گفتار متن: مهرناز سعيدوفا. 38 دقيقه، 2012، آمريكا. نمايش داده شده در فستيوال‌هاي ادينبورو (2012)، روتردام (2013) و گلاسگو (2013).
مجله‌هاي سينمايي ايران شايد تنها مجلات سينمايي باشند كه بخشي ثابت و محبوب براي چاپ خاطرات و نوشته‌هايي با زباني توام با حسرت و دريغ از گذشته دارند كه در قالب بهاريه‌ها و نامه‌نگاري‌ها ظاهر مي‌شود. اين آثار معمولاً براي كاركرد نوستالژيكشان منتشر مي‌شوند، اگرچه بعضاً مي‌توانند اعتباري هم به عنوان گونه‌اي از تاريخ شفاهي داشته باشند. اما وجه اشتراك تقريباً تمام اين نگاه‌هاي به گذشته، از چشم‌انداز سينما، حسي از غبن و شكست و گم‌گشتگي بهشتي ذهني است كه شايد هرگز وجود نداشته است. معمولاً تكيه به گذشته و تصوير بهشتي زميني در ذهن نويسنده‌اي كه آه و دريغ از گذر زمان دارد، نشانه‌اي است از عدم رضايت از زمان حال و به دنبال آن تلاش براي قرار دادن خود در نقطه‌اي كه وجود آدمي حسي از تعلق تاريخي داشته باشد. واضح است كه در شرايطي كه تنها يك زمان حال براي زندگي تعريف شده، حافظه تنها عنصري است كه اجازه دارد سفري آزاد به گذشته داشته باشد، بخش‌هايي از آن را برگزيند و گذشته آرمانيِ صاحبِ ذهن را رقم بزند. همۀ ما كمابيش چنين سفرهاي روزانه‌اي داريم، اما همۀ ما اين سفرها را مكتوب نمي‌كنيم و يا موضوع يك فيلم قرار نمي‌دهيم.

Thursday 17 August 2017

Strike [Zarbat] (Samuel Khachikian, 1964)

Bootimar (left) and Jalal in Zarbat

Iran, 1964, Director: Samuel Khachikian

International title: Strike. Script: Samuel Khachikian (uncredited). DoP.: Ghodratollah Ehsani. Editing: Samuel Khachikian. Art director: Hassan Paknejad, Ali Delpazir. Music.: Samuel Khachikian (selection). Cast: Arman (Jamal), Abdollah Bootimar (Dr. Kourosh Imen), Ghodsi Kashani (Shirin), Farzaneh Kazemi (Mozhgan), Jamsheed Tatar (Hossein Aghai), Reza Beik Imanverdi (Reza the Madman). Production.: Azhir Film Studio

The premiere of the film in Tehran

One of Khachikian’s most morbid thrillers, Zarbat actually begins as a melodrama – and a rather tedious one at that – in which most of Iranian cinema’s clichés of class conflict are introduced. Almost halfway into the film, however, Khachikian shifts to a meticulously designed spectacle of terror, as if in revenge for the preceding drama. Characters move into a dark territory of murder and mistaken identities. As in some of Khachikian’s other works, the setting of an ordinary house becomes a site of peril and a stage for perverse pleasures, as the director plays with filmic elements to the point of abstraction. Khachikian explains this as his attempt, after the 1950s, to “revive the alphabet of film” in Iranian cinema: “I wanted to save Iranian cinema from roohozi [a popular and vulgar form of theatre]. From the first day onwards, it wasn't the message or the content that I was concerned with. What I wanted was a precise cinema: action, correct editing, lighting and so on.”