Thursday 31 October 2019

A Century of Korean Cinema, from Bologna to London

A slightly longer version of a note written for the catalogue of London Korean Film Festival 2019.

"There is a grave and learned air about the city, and a pleasant gloom upon it," wrote Charles Dickens of the city of Bologna, "that would leave [a] distinct and separate impression in the mind, among a crowd of cities." Grave and learned? Maybe. Gloom? Never, or shall we say Mr Dickens didn't get there in time for Il Cinema Ritrovato's evening screening in Piazza Maggiore? He would have loved Luis Buñuel's Los Olvidados which was seen this year by some 4,000 viewers.

Saturday 19 October 2019

Filmfarsi Chat with Toby Miller

Toby Miller interviews me for his Cambridge radio show on the movies. The occasion is the screening of Filmfarsi at Cambridge Film Festival on October 22 and 23. He has posted a transcription of the interview on TAKE ONE website:

Toby Miller: How did you decide to shine a light on the movies of Filmfarsi?

Ehsan Khoshbakht: Before I began my career in writing and working on film, my background was in architecture and urban design, and it was this background that actually initiated the Filmfarsi project. I decided to look at the use of modern architecture in Iranian popular films from before the Revolution. As I began to watch this period of Iranian cinema I realised that people outside Iran really didn’t know much about them.

Toby: And where does the term Filmfarsi originate from?

Ehsan: Filmfarsi was coined by one man in 1953 – the same the year as the coup. Amir Houshang Kavousi – educated in France and very interested in Art-house cinema – came up with term knowing that in Persian if you merge two words the result, as with Filmfarsi, is something that means neither Film nor Farsi (Persian). So it was a derogatory description by somebody who saw themselves as an enemy of Iranian popular cinema. But what I try to do in my documentary is show that the word today couldn’t be something entirely negative. What began as a way to make fun of Iranian commercial filmmakers is now rather something which describes a cinema which ran parallel to the Iranian art-house cinema we know as the New Wave.

Monday 23 September 2019

The Hills of Marlik (Ebrahim Golestan, 1963)

The Hills of Marlik 

The restored version of The Hills of Marlik played at Venice Classics 2019. Golestan passed away yesterday August 22, 2023. – EK

TAPPEHA-YE MARLIK [The Hills of Marlik]
Iran, 1963/1964, Director: Ebrahim Golestan

Alternative title: The Elements. Script.: Ebrahim Golestan. Director of photography: Soleiman Minassian. Editing: Ebrahim Golestan. Composer: Morteza Hannaneh. Voice-over.: Brian Spooner (English voice-over), Ebrahim Golestan (Farsi voice-over). Prod.: Golestan Film Studio [aka Golestan Film Unit]

A 3,000-year-old site in the north of Iran is simultaneously excavated by archaeologists and fertilized by farmers. Another example of Golestan’s documentary work about classical elements, in which the past touches the present, and there is a clear continuity among the forms of human life detected by the camera, as it breathes life into dead objects.

Wednesday 28 August 2019

Filmfarsi is My One-Dollar Movie [An Unpublished Interview]

Marjan (left) and Nasser Malek Motie

Upon Filmfarsi's world premiere in Bristol, July 2019, an online journal interviewed me about my film. They never ran it so I decided it to publish it here. — EK

How does it feel to be having your World Premiere at Watershed?

I like that place and the people who run it. Been there almost every year for the past 3 years especially when they started Cinema Rediscovered (which is inspired after Il Cinema Ritrovato) so it's kind of an ideal place to open the film in the UK. Many Ritrovato comrades will be there which makes me feel pretty much at home again.

This has been a four-year journey for you, what does it mean for you to be sharing this film, and your journey, with a festival audience?

Saturday 10 August 2019

Gozaresh [The Report] (Abbas Kiarostami, 1977)

Kuosh Afsharpanah and Shohre Aghdashloo in The Report

Playing this weekend at ICF Center in New York.

The Report [original title: Gozaresh]

Abbas Kiarostami • Iran 1977 • 1h49m • Persian with English subtitles • Cast: Shohreh Aghdashloo, Kurosh Afsharpanah, Mehdi Montazar, Mostafa Tari, Hashem Arkan.

Arguably Kiarostami's least-known great film, part of the difficultly in accessing this compelling marriage drama lies in the fact that it was screened in Iran during the last months of the Pahlavi reign, when the country was gripped by strikes, demonstrations and acts of revolutionary violence – hardly the time for cinema, even if the film did relatively well. Shortly afterwards, when the revolution succeeded, the film – like so many other Iranian films showing nudity, sex or even unveiled women – was banned. The original elements of the film believed to be destroyed during the revolution and the copies in circulation have an unexpected cut in the middle of a scene of intimacy between the two leading characters, suggesting that it has been cut out after the revolution.

According to Iranian film critic Nima Hassani-Nasab, the film was totally conscious of the chaos which lay ahead: "The characters of the film are torn between a desire to revolt on one hand and cowardice and social inaction on the other. This conflict plunges them into dissatisfaction and fills them with hatred for both themselves and the repetitious cycle of life they live."

Saturday 6 July 2019

Filmfarsi (2019)

World Premiere: July 26, Watershed Bristol

Read on The Guardian: How Iran's 'filmfarsi' remains the biggest secret in cinema history

Saturday 15 June 2019

Youssef Chahine, The Nile, The Soviets

Youssef Chahine

One of the six* Youssef Chahine films which will be screened at Il Cinema Ritrovato 2019 is one of its director's epic works from the 1960s and his first film conceived as a co-production between Egypt and the Soviet Union. I haven't mentioned the title of the film yet as it's exactly the reason I'm posting the translation of this interview with Chahine: the confusion about the title of the film.

The film in question is about Aswan Dam which was one of President Gamal Abdel Nasser's most ambitious projects. It was built with the help of Russians after Nasser was turned down by Americans. Chahine was assigned to make a film about it with a cast from both Egypt and Russia and scenes shot around the Nile, as well as in Moscow and Leningrad.

However, the film was banned upon completion and Chahine was asked to do another film on the same subject. The title of the second film which he directed but didn't like was Al-Nas va Al-Nil (People and the Nile, 1972). This film was distributed in Egypt and had some scenes in common with the "director's cut."

For years, that was the only version available until the original film was discovered in and restored by Cinémathèque Française. Chahine started calling his revived film Al-Nil va al-Hayat (Life and the Nile).

Poster for Al-Nas va al-Nil (originally shown in 70mm)

In Bologna, we will be screening the latter version that Chahine liked and approved on June 26, 11AM, Cine Jolly. However, note that the Arabic title of the film in the opening sequence is still Al-Nas va Al-Nil (People and the Nile) even if it is actually Al-Nil va al-Hayat! At this point, I still don't know why.

Back to the troubled history of making this Nile project, Chahine explained the genesis of the film and the problems he had in an interview with newspaper Al Hayat. I have used Google translator and my basic knowledge of Arabic to make this text available to you, as I believe the information given here is important in avoiding the confusion regarding the title of the film.

Wednesday 12 June 2019

First Case, Second Case (Abbas Kiarostami, 1979)

Abbas Kiarostami, circa mid-70s
Programme notes written for the world premiere of the restored version of the film at Il Cinema Ritrovato 2019. — EK

First Case, Second Case
Abbas Kiarostami, 1979

Written by Abbas Kiarostami. Shot by Houshang Baharlou. Edited by Abbas Kiarostami. Cast: Mehdi Azadbakht, Mohammadreza Barati, Hedayat Matin Daftari, Nader Ebrahimi, Gholamreza Emami, Mahmoud Enayat, Ezzatolah Entezami, Ali Mousavi Garmaroudi, Ali Golzadeh Ghafouri, Sadegh Ghotbzadeh.

First Case, Second Case

This banned and rarely seen pseudo-documentary by Kiarostami is a testimony to his seldom acknowledged political shrewdness and his objective, complex perspective on the tumultuous events of the late 70s in Iran, culminating in the revolution. Remarkably, he achieved this without leaving his comfort zone, the classroom setting, and by staying faithful to his inquiring style, with its subtle, imaginative manipulation of recorded reality. Here, he also mastered the interview format (recently introduced into his body of work by Tribute to Teachers,1977), putting his finger on the pulse of Iranian society by collaging conflicting viewpoints.

Tuesday 11 June 2019

Georgian Short Documentaries at Il Cinema Ritrovato 2019

Arabesques on a Pirosmani Theme

This programme, composed of four short Georgian documentaries, was cherry-picked by me from a larger number of newly restored films made available to Il Cinema Ritrovato by Central Archive of Audio-Visual Documents of the National Archives of Georgia. Thanks to their hard work and generosity, you'll be able to see some of the most dazzling,  hauntingly poetic films of this year's festival in Bologna. The title of this programme, "Beyond Soviet Propaganda", is suggested by curator of Georgian Archive; a very apt title if you watch the films. — Ehsan Khoshbakht


Tudzhi [Cast Iron] (1964) by Otar Iosseliani

In this early Iosseliani, the last of the Georgian masters, shows a fascinating combination of influences – from his own background in music, to Soviet documentaries about heavy industry. He records a day in the life of the workers at a steel mill, where the juxtaposition of vulnerable flesh and raging, smelting iron creates striking images. It opens with city symphony style shots of industrial chimneys. From there, in a movement from light to darkness – repeated elsewhere in the film – it’s off to the mill. The post-production sound, although realistic, adds an eerie dimension. There are humorous touches, however: during a lunch break a gigantic fan is used by the workers to dry their sweat-soaked clothes and the air blowing around the shirts turns gives them new sculptural forms. And later, when the workers are seen barbecuing by simply holding the skewers close to the ground, where the temperature is high enough to grill their daily meal.

Saturday 8 June 2019

Way of a Gaucho (Jacques Tourneur, 1952)

Written for the catalogue of Il Cinema Ritrovato 2019 to accompany a June 25 screening of the film from a vintage BFI print. — EK

This year's Il Cinema Ritrovato offers some of the most eclectic westerns ever made: Henry King's realist, anti-violence drama The Gunfighter, Budd Boetticher's austere and minimalist Ride Lonesome and Tourneur's Argentinean western, Way of a Gaucho. Interestingly, the latter was meant to be directed by King, too, whose wife's illness prevented him from accepting an assignment which demanded shooting entirely in Argentina.

Gauchos are a "special breed of men answering only to their laws and codes," the opening sequence voice-over clarifies with its clear analogy to cowboys, setting the tone for a classic western narrative. The film follows the story of gaucho Martín Penalosa, from imprisonment, after killing a man in a duel, to agreeing serve in the militia which he eventually deserts. This gives the film its dramatic core, especially after Martín's commander, Major Salinas, embarks on a long chase to capture the deserter who by now has become a hero bandit.

Thursday 30 May 2019

Becky Sharp (Rouben Mamoulian, 1935)

Becky Sharp

A restored version of Becky Sharp will be screened at Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2019. For the screening date, check the Cineteca's website mid-June. -- EK

Becky Sharp, the protagonist of Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, is a golden-haired gold digger, a flirt and social climber of early 19th-century England. Mamoulian’s portrayal of Becky in this satire of aristocratic life shows her not as an opportunist but a woman mischievously reversing gender power relations, a bon vivant – with three-strip Technicolor advocating her excessive world. This colour process, previously used only in shorts or for certain sequences in black and white features, was used here for a feature film for the first time. Shooting began with actor and (rather dull) part-time director Lowell Sherman handling the project. When Sherman died during the production Mamoulian was brought on board, starting from scratch. Having made a succession of great films since 1931, the Tbilisi-born Armenian had one of the most consistent bodies of work in post-sound American cinema, known for his ability to encode his vision in light, movement, and now colour. Technicolor wished to seduce the viewer; Mamoulian wanted to tell the story via the colour. The continuity of colour temperature was of no concern. In the ball sequence, a sudden shot from above also marks a shift like that from an oil painting to a watercolour, with colours leaking from the edges of the figures. The palette is dominated by pale blues, tawdry yellows, royal reds and light greys mostly for backgrounds. Critic Tom Milne notes how the colours define Becky's moods with “soft blues for melting ingenuousness, bright yellow for moments of triumph,” or more generally, when in the ball sequence “the blues, greens and yellows are gradually drained away to leave the screen suffused by a crescendo of red.” The initial box office failure and later availability of poor prints only (using the inferior two-colour Cinecolor process) created the impression that Becky Sharp wasn’t worthy of its director’s name. This definitive restoration finally reveals it as one of Mamoulian’s finest works of the ’30s.

Ehsan Khoshbakht

Monday 27 May 2019

Il Cinema Ritrovato 2019

Cinema, which never fully leaves Bologna throughout the year, is about to reclaim the streets of the city as it plays host to one of the greatest motion picture parties in the world, offering some 500 films (no typo, the figure is correct!), talks, presentations and countless other events celebrating cinema in all forms, shapes and sizes. With a brilliant array of great films, masterpieces and rarities lined up, the past has never been so close to us and the projections so entwined with our daily life. In our uncompromisingly internationalist approach to film history, you’ll see films from five continents including works from Mali, Morocco and Mexico.

This year, we have two rich programmes focusing on mega-stars Musidora and Jean Gabin, two striking examples of the ways in which actors can shape national or international culture. Get ready also to discover the genius of Eduardo De Filippo, a towering, multifaceted figure of Italian culture. Two further programmes will look at the cinematic output of two countries recovering from the effects of war and geopolitical division: Germany and South Korea. Themes of national identity and political consciousness are faced head-on in the films of Arab cinema’s greatest director, Youssef Chahine, the subject of another retrospective. Other
directors in the spotlight include Henry King (an overview retrospective), Felix E. Feist (celebrating his film noir output) and Georges Franju (his documentaries).

Also, we recently added an extra day to the festival – the final day – during which only one cinema operates, showing a festival ‘best of’. This offers the perfect way to come back down to earth after eight days of celluloid, espresso, delicious cuisine and conversation into the wee hours of the morning.

Thursday 23 May 2019

50 Essential Iranian Films

Kako (Shapur Gharib, 1971)

Few years back, I asked Houshang Golmakani, the editor-in-chief of the Iranian Film Monthly, to produce a list of his 50 favourite Iranian films to be published on Keyframe. It was published around 2014 but later Keyframe went through some design and organisational changes, and the original posting, as well as some of my other contributions, vanished without any explanation. So I decided to re-post here with some minor alterations and more stills.

As I said, Golmakani edit the Film Monthly, the longest-running film magazine in Iran and one of the first to be established after the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Aside from his full-time presence in the office of Film Monthly in downtown Tehran, he has written books on Iranian cinema and directed Stardust Stricken (1996), on Mohsen Makhmalbaf.

This is not a standard listing of Iranian arthouse classics but more of a personal map of Iranian cinema -- both commercial and arthouse -- sketched for those curious people who want to explore beyond what the English film literature on Iranian cinema manages to offer, reminding the reader that Iranian cinema is not limited to names like Kiarostami, Makhmalbaf or Panahi. Aside from the work of great filmmakers with artistic ambitions since 1960s -- often dubbed as Iranian New Wave -- there are certain kinds of commercial films that deserve attention, especially those working within the confines of “national genres". This list is rather good at that. Nearly 5 years have passed since this was first compiled by Golmakani and I'm sure now his take on the subject, especially concerning recent years, would be something very different.

Ehsan Khoshbakht

Fifty films essential to understanding Iranian cinema

By Houshang Golmakani
(Additional notes by Ehsan Khoshbakht)

Wednesday 22 May 2019

100 Must-See Films at Il Cinema Ritrovato 2019 - Part II (1-50)

Fellow cinephiles,

This is an illustrated list (mostly with posters, when available) of the 100 films you must watch in Bologna during Il Cinema Ritrovato XXXIII. That is, of course, only if a day had 48 hours and a week, 10 days. Plus, if we were running this show for a full month instead of the usual 8 days. Needless to say, any number of these that you watch, you'll have some essential images to live with for the rest of the year.

Ehsan Khoshbakht

100 Must-See Films at Il Cinema Ritrovato 2019 - Part I (51-100)

Fellow cinephiles,

This is an illustrated list (mostly with posters, when available) of the 100 films you must watch in Bologna during Il Cinema Ritrovato XXXIII. That would be possible, of course, if a day had 48 hours and a week, 10 days. Plus, if we were running this show for a full month instead of the usual 8 days. Needless to say, any number of these seen, you'll have some essential images to live with for the rest of the year.

Ehsan Khoshbakht

Monday 13 May 2019

Henry King: A Retrospective in Bologna

Henry King, 1930

Il Cinema Ritrovato has a soft spot for those American masters whose careers encompassed all of the major technical developments from the silent era to Cinemascope. Henry King, the subject of this year's retrospective in Bologna, is a prime example. One of Hollywood's most enduring filmmakers, he made 116 films across all genres between 1915 and 1962. King's style was invisible and economical, whether realising a work of Americana, or a lavish historical drama. Nostalgic and religious, his films are blessed with vitality in each and every shot. They feature some of cinema's greatest stars, often in their best performances. And the films in this programme offer the chance to celebrate some of the best cameramen in the history of Hollywood – especially those associated with Fox Studios, where King spent 32 years of his career. This retrospective focuses on King’s sound period, but the programme also includes one classic and one rarity from his silent years. Curated by Ehsan Khoshbakht

Thursday 9 May 2019

Destry Rides Again (George Marshall, 1939)

Destry Rides Again will be screened from a new restoration at Il Cinema Ritrovato 2019. Date to be announced.

Long before the hippy slogan “Make Love, Not War”, this wildly funny western carried a pacifist message as German troops entered Poland. But you don’t need a message to fall for the story of Frenchy, a hardboiled dancehall girl in the funky and gun-crazy town of Bottleneck who falls for mild-mannered deputy sheriff Tom Destry, who never wears a gun.

When a film is so satisfyingly entertaining, one often forgets the artistry with which it was crafted. George Marshall blended what he had learned from directing Laurel & Hardy with his experience of directing Tom Mix – the latter’s first talkie from 1932 being the film upon which Destry was based, even if in the process everything was drastically altered except for the title.

Saturday 4 May 2019

Sepid o Siah

منبع الهام مجلۀ سپید و سیاه یا لااقل منبع الهام (یا تقلید) طرح نشان آن؟

Monday 18 February 2019

Underline#4: The Abadan Issue (Editorial + Download link)


Without the discovery of oil in Masjed Soleyman in 1908, the city of Abadan would not have experienced the tempest of economic and cultural changes that swept through it in just two decades; a transformation unmatched by any other city in Iran.

That which made Abadan thrive, and drew crowds of western engineers, investors and exploiters, was also a source of misery. The history of this picturesque port city is also the history of colonial interests and foreign intervention.

Abadan proudly fought inequality, and the nationalisation of the oil industry in 1951 was its moment of glory. Less than three decades later, an aggressive and massively destructive Iraqi army invasion under Saddam Hussein once again pushed the city to the edge, only for it to see another Phoenix-like resurgence.

Why Abadan? Answering that question means delving deeper into the history of one of the most dynamic urban areas in Iran; one which has produced a significant number of great artists, some of whom are featured in this issue. It also brings us, inevitably, to the painful yet important matter of the presence of the British in the region. Even though our focus is chiefly on art, you will read passages that detail how the British influence contributed to a distinct cultural scene, while also introducing segregation and capitalist exploitation.

The preparation of this issue would not have been possible without the generous support of Iranian historian Abbas Baharloo, himself an Abadani. He provided us with most of the rarely seen photographs published here for the first time and contributed two fine essays. He told me once: “Abadan is my ruined hometown and I still love that ruin.” I have often heard such moving words from Abadani people, expressing a sense of love, attachment, and deep sympathy with the sufferings of a city. Abadan is a magnetic field of nostalgia, devastation, and a very unique kind of beauty.

Wednesday 6 February 2019

Print the Legend: Media Manipulation in American Films

The Sound of Fury (French poster)
A revised (i.e. "censored) version of Jonathan Rosenbaum's original draft which, for comparison purposes, can be accessed here. You won't be surprised to see which parts were eliminated. This was for a programme Jonathan and I curated in Ankara, Turkey. -- EK

Print the Legend: Media Manipulation in American Films
Jonathan Rosenbaum & Ehsan Khoshbakht

Living in the age of "post-truth", "fake news" is a term one can hardly avoid. In American films of the 1950s, this meant a way of manipulating the masses by distorting facts, turning social events of grave importance into a sideshow, even mobilising mobs, from whom those manipulating the dominant narrative would benefit. Today, however, somewhat paradoxically, it can also mean something else: a denial of the lies or acts of corruption exposed by trustworthy media sources, evoking the Newspeak described in George Orwell’s dystopic novel Nineteen Eight-Four, with its famous slogans, "War is Peace" and "Ignorance is Strength".

Saturday 12 January 2019

Henry King (1886-1982)

این مدخل برای دانشنامۀ کارگردانان بهزاد رحیمیان در سال 2009 نوشته شده و امروز با بیشتر نکاتی که دربارۀ کینگ نوشته‌ام و استنباط نصفه‌نیمه‌ام از سینمای او موافق نیستم. با این وجود، مقاله اطلاعاتی دربارۀ کینگ دارد که ممکن است هم‌چنان به درد خواننده بخورد. احسان خوش‌بخت

هنری کینگ (متولد: 24 ژانویه 1886، کریستین‌برگ، ویرجینیا؛ درگذشت: 29 ژوئن 1982، تولوسا لِیک، کالیفرنیا)
راهش به سینما در 1912 و به عنوان بازیگر باز شد، تجربه‌ای که پیش‌تر روی صحنۀ تئاتر به دست آورده بود. اولین فیلمش را در 1915 کارگردانی کرد. کمپانی فیلم‌سازی اینسپیریشین را با چارلز دوئل و ریچارد بارتلمس تأسیس کرد. در دوران صامت یکی از مهم‌ترین کارگردانان تاریخ سینمای آمریکا بود. در فیلم‌های صامتش مانند Tol'able David (1921)، خواهر سفیدپوش (1923)، رومولا (1925) و تصاحب باربارا وُرث (1926) تسلطی کامل بر روایت متکی به تصویر و هدایت بازیگران داشت. کمی بعد خودش را به سرعت با سینمای ناطق انطباق داد. او در دهه‌های 1930 تا  1950 یک حرفه‌ای پرکار و معتمد استودیوی فاکس بود و بیشتر فیلم‌هایش را در آن جا ساخت. یکی از بهترین نمونه‌های سینمای او در دهه 1930 نمایشگاه ایالتی (1933) است؛ فیلمی که با ملودرام‌های جان فورد در همان دوره پهلو می‌زند (و البته هر دو کارگردان تا حد زیادی متکی بر ویل راجرز هستند که شاید بزرگ‌ترین بازیگری باشد که سینما به خود دیده) و دوربین سیال، گریز از کات، فضای زنده و واقعی زندگی خانوادگی در روز مملو از سرخوشی و دیدارهای عاشقانه که به پایانی غم‌انگیز و جدایی ختم می‌شود آدم را به یاد ژان رنوار می‌اندازد. اگر هنری کینگ در دهه 1930 سنتزی است از سینمای فورد و رنوار - در آمریکایی‌ترین و خاکی‌ترین شکل شخصیت‌پردازی هم‌چنان ترجیح می‌دهد در فیلم‌ها و در جهان واقعی  پشت نقاب فیلم ساز پرکار سرگرمی آفرین و بی‌ادعا پنهان بماند. در 1944 آواز برنادت را کارگردانی کرد که تا امروز مشهورترین فیلم ناطق او باقی مانده. رئالیزم کینگ، روایت‌های ساده اما پرجزییاتی که به شکل غیرمنتظره‌ای به کنکاشی در اسطوره‌ها ختم می‌شدند مشخصات بیشتر کارهای او بودند.