Friday 23 December 2022

The Best Films of 2022


My "top 10" of the year as submitted to and published on Sight & Sound. For the full list of the 97 voters and their picks go here. – EK

EO (Jerzy Skolimowski)

Compartment No. 6 (Juho Kuosmanen)

See You Friday, Robinson (Mitra Farahani)

The Eclipse (Nataša Urban)

The King of Laughter (Mario Martone)

Marx Can Wait (Marco Bellocchio)

Jacques Tati, tombé de la lune (Jean-Baptiste Péretié)

Maixabel (Icíar Bollaín)

I Am Trying to Remember (Pegah Ahangarani)

My Imaginary Country (Patricio Guzmán)

Friday 11 November 2022

How to Make a Retrospective

My Six Convicts by Hugo Fregonese. Still (c) Cineteca di Bologna

The talk How to Make a Retrospective will be given at the BFI Southbank, London as part of the Archive Screening Days 2022 (organised by Independent Cinema Office) on December 8, 2022.

What are the challenges and methods needed to bring cinema history to life? How can we frame a body of work so it can be shared more widely? In this wide-ranging presentation, filmmaker, film curator and writer Ehsan Khoshbakht demonstrates the process of mounting a major retrospective. In 2022, Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna – the world’s largest archive film festival – delivered a retrospective of director Hugo Fregonese. A neglected figure in Hollywood but with a history spanning his home country of Argentina as well as UK, Spain, West Germany and Italy, Fregonese’s life and career contained multitudes, and the retrospective introduced his work to a new generation. This session offers an insider’s view on the curatorial framework for building a retrospective as well as the practical challenges of sharing work outside regular circulation.

Tuesday 18 October 2022

Earthly Songs: Ebrahim Golestan at 100 – A Viennale retrospective

This retrospective took place in Vienna, as part of the Viennale. RIP Ebrahim Golestan (1922-2023) – EK

Session#1: Fires of Forough

Fire-Fight at Ahvaz (1958) / A Fire (1961) / Courtship (1961) / The House Is Black (1962)

Total running time: 88 mins

A look at Golestan's oil documentaries, as well as examining his collaboration with poet and filmmaker Forough Farrokhzad. In 1958, an oil well in southwest Iran caught fire. Abolghassem Rezaie, the son of one of the pioneers of Iranian cinema, made Fire-Fight at Ahwaz about the disaster. When Golestan saw the black-and-white footage, for which he wrote the narration, he saw that the story held even greater potential and decided to produce his own version of the events – this time in colour. Golestan's version, A Fire, proved to be his first major international success. It was edited by Farrokhzad, who combined her poetic sensibilities with Golestan's more symbolic approach. Farrokhzad also acted in Courtship, a short made for Canadian television, in which Golestan demonstrates a marvellous ability with mise-en-scène, especially in his assured use of the camera. In the same year, Farrokhzad made The House Is Black, set in a leper colony in northwest Iran. Celebrated as one of the greatest films ever made, it is a dialogue between the passions of the poet (Farrokhzad) and the voice of reason (Golestan).

Thursday 29 September 2022

Chess of the Wind: The Glorious Miniature of an Upheaval

Chess of the Wind

When Chess of the Wind premiered in November 1976, at the fifth Tehran International Film Festival, nobody knew what to make of it. A mix-up in the order of the reels at the first of three screenings—either a technical issue or a deliberate act of sabotage—made the plot almost unintelligible, while faulty projector lamps meant that the interior scenes, certain of which are artfully lit using candlelight, appeared so dark that viewers became angry. Moreover, despite the film’s historical setting—the drama unfolds in a feudal mansion, following the death of a matriarch—this tale of deceit and intrigue was a little too close to the bone for a society that had become increasingly polarized since the beginning of the seventies. Complete with breaks in the fourth wall, a delicately handled lesbian scene (the first of its kind in Iranian cinema), and an ending in which a working-class woman overthrows a male-dominated household and liberates herself, this enigmatic work was both perplexing and reflective of a changing Iran...

Read the full essay on Criterion website


Monday 5 September 2022

Focus on Filmfarsi in Paris (September 2022)

Cry of Midnight AKA Midnight Terror (1962)

A listing of the Iranian films which will be screened at L'Étrange Festival in Paris, including my documentary Filmfarsi (2019). All screenings at Forum des images, September 2022.

Filmfarsi (2019)

Sep 9, 17:45 (introduction by Ehsan) | Sep 18, 18:30

“As a long standing admirer of the New Iranian Cinema, I often wondered about its popular predecessor. Ehsan Khoshbakht has finally opened up this story.  His essayistic, meditative and cinephile analysis celebrates an unashamedly exploitative genre, steeped in sex and violence; Filmfarsi very usefully locates this crazy cinema within the Iranian popular and political culture of its time, and also allows it to find a place in the wider context of World Cinema.” — Laura Mulvey

Szyfry (Wojciech Has, 1966)

Playing at London's Closeup Cinema on October 30, 2022. – EK

Championed for his intricate narratives and hypnotic imagery by people like Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia, Luis Buñuel and Martin Scorsese, Wojciech Has uses a historical frame only to bend the notions of time and space. The result, Szyfry (meaning the codes), is one of the most complex Polish films about the moral dilemmas of Second World War.

Made right after his international breakthrough, The Saragossa Manuscript, and using the same star (Zbigniew Cybulski, in one of his final roles, before dying in an accident a year later), Szyfry is about a Second World War veteran returning to Warsaw from his long London exile to meet the wife and son he has left behind. The son (played by Cybulski), a former member of the resistance, open his father's eyes to the fate of the fourth member of their family, his disappeared brother, and the inconvenient truth that he might have been a Nazi collaborator. Featuring some of Has's most staggering dream/nightmare sequences, this rarely seen gem is one of the essential films of Polish cinema of the 1960s.

Tuesday 23 August 2022

See You Friday, Robinson (Mitra Farahani, 2022)


RIP Ebrahim Golestan (1922 – 2023)

A long-distance dialogue between Ebrahim Golestan, a giant of Iranian cinema and literature (now only a few months shy of his 100th birthday) and Swiss-French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard forms the basis of this latest film by Mitra Farahani. Among the most gifted documentarians from Iran, Farahani mediates between two seemingly irreconcilable worlds to create a unique epistolary work. Its elegant, hybrid style takes us from encounters with shadows – the first time we see each of these artists – to the inner lives of flesh and blood individuals; vulnerable, pained, caring, endlessly searching. 

Monday 22 August 2022

One Way Street (Hugo Fregonese, 1950)

One Way Street, part of the Hugo Fregonese tribute, plays at MoMA on September 1, 18:30. It's a fine 35mm print, previously screened in Bologna in June 2022. – EK

After leaving Britain in bitter resentment, James Mason appeared in Hugo Fregonese’s Hollywood debut, somewhat appropriately, a film about life on the run. Mason plays Dr Frank Matson, a shady physician who takes off with a bag full of stolen money and the girlfriend of a gang leader, hiding out with her in Mexico. But fate knocks loudly on the door, echoing one of Fregonese’s major preoccupations: the encounter with death. “For no matter the tears that may be wept, the appointment will be kept,” the film’s opening title card bluntly announces.

Saturday 20 August 2022

Doroshkechi (Nosrat Karimi, 1971)

The new digital copy of Doroshkechi that world-premiered at Il Cinema Ritrovato 2022 (for which this note was composed) is now (September 12, 16:00) playing at Forum des Images in Paris. I shall be introducing the Parisian screening of the film. – EK

Doroshkechi [The Carriage Driver] (Iran, 1971, black & white, 115 min)
Writer and Director: Nosrat Karimi
Writer: Nosrat Karimi. Cinematographer: Houshang Baharlou. Editing: Sirus Jarrahzadeh. Music: Mojtaba Mirzadeh. Cast: Nosrat Karimi (Gholamali), Shahla Riahi (Zinat Sadat), Masoud Asadollahi (Morteza), Arghavan (Pouri), Babak Karimi (Hassan), Ezattollah Navid, Diana. Producer: Manouchehr Sadeghpour. Scanned in 5K and digitally cleaned in 4K by CNC.

Wednesday 27 July 2022

Hugo Fregonese: Man on the Run (MoMA retrospective, September 2022)

Blowing Wild

Perhaps history’s most restless filmmaker, Hugo Fregonese directed his first films in his native Argentina in the 1940s and then embarked on a globe-trotting career that took him to Hollywood, London, Paris, Rome, Munich, and eventually back to South America, all the while exploring themes of claustrophobia, entrapment, and imprisonment. This program, originally organized with Bologna’s Il Cinema Ritrovato festival of archival film, includes a new restoration of Fregonese’s boldly stylized Western Apache Drums (1951) and a new 35mm print of Fregonese’s masterpiece Black Tuesday (1954), a strikingly harsh and violent gangster film featuring Edward G. Robinson in his last thoroughly villainous role and spectacular noir cinematography by Stanley Cortez (Night of the Hunter).

Organized by Dave Kehr, Curator, Department of Film, The Museum of Modern Art, and Ehsan Khoshbakht, Co-Director, Il Cinema Ritrovato.

The series runs from September 1 to 15 in New York City. More info here.

Tuesday 12 July 2022

Il Cinema Ritrovato 2022: Favourites & Discoveries

Singin' in the Rain in Piazza Maggiore, July 1

When they unscrewed the heavy and majestic La Nonna (our carbon arc projector) from the pedestal in Piazzetta Pasolini and the ice cream vendor packed his stuff and went home it was clear that Il Cinema Ritrovato XXXVI was over. We had a ball. More than 400 films were shown during 8 and a half days. Cinema could be found in every corner of the city.

After the last year's round-up – seen and read by many – I asked colleagues, curators, film historians, silent film accompanists, scholars and the attendees to pick the title of the two films from the festival, one as their favourite film and the other of their major discovery at this year's edition. You can read them below.

The magic of Bologna lies in the fact that while we showed films by the masters we love (Hitchcock, Lang, Ophuls, Melville), the filmmakers that are championed in this poll are Niskanen, Muratova, Fregonese, Shahid Saless, Rossi, and Ovanessian. Rewrite the film histories now!

See you next year!


* * *

Saturday 21 May 2022

A View into Yugoslav Cinema by Mina Radović

Man Is Not a Bird

During its XXXVI edition, Il Cinema Ritrovato will present a section dedicated to Yugoslav cinema. The curator of the programme, Mina Radović, has written an introductory article, discussing the ideas behind the selection, as well as the significance of each selected title. All the films will play at the Jolly cinema of Bologna between June 25 and July 2, 2022.

“Tell the Truth!” A View into Yugoslav Cinema, 1955-1969

By Mina Radović

Yugoslav cinema represents a rich, multifaceted, and for many film connoisseurs, untapped resource of film heritage. One of the most diverse states in twentieth century Europe, Yugoslavia was originally founded in 1918 in the aftermath of the First World War and the collapse of several empires as the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. The country was governed as a constitutional monarchy governed by King Aleksandar Karađorđević and in 1929 the country changed its name to Yugoslavia – ‘the land of South Slavs’.

A hub of film culture, pedagogy, and production, the film industry was nationalised after the Second World War and a sophisticated studio system quickly emerged. The new government led by Josip Broz Tito turned Yugoslavia into a socialist country with its own brand of self-management and a form of diplomacy which connected East, West, and the ‘Non-Aligned’ world.

The post-war years saw the rise of formidable new artists who examined, mediated, and challenged contemporary Yugoslav reality, breaking social taboos, and forging new means of cinematic expression. Their work is often diametrically different, but they are connected by an innovative, experimental, and altogether refreshing spirit to see the world anew. The retrospective will present two decades of cinema, moving from the Classical Cinema of the 1950s to the New Yugoslav Film of the 1960s and incorporates a range of feature and short, fiction, documentary, and experimental films by master filmmakers of the era.

Wednesday 18 May 2022

Iranian Films at Il Cinema Ritrovato 2022

The Carriage Driver (Nosrat Karimi, 1971), shot by Houshang Baharlou (Chess of the Wind)

The forthcoming edition of Il Cinema Ritrovato (June 25-July 3, 2022) doesn't include an individual strand for Iranian cinema, however, it'll nonetheless feature at least five dazzling Iranian films, made between 1961 and 2022, shown across 3 different strands.

The documentary section will see the Italian premiere of À vendredi, Robinson (Mitra Farahani, 2022), a dialogue between Ebrahim Golestan, a giant of Iranian cinema and literature (now only a few months shy of his 100th birthday) and Swiss-French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard. This is a truly beautiful work and should prepare you for what comes next.

A Fire (Yek Atash) by Ebrahim Golestan was premiered at Venice Film Festival in 1961. We screened it in 2016 when a retrospective was dedicated to Golestan's cinema of poetry and politics. Now we have updated the faded 35mm print previously shown with a 4K restoration of the film, presented for the first time in its original Persian voice-over, spoken by a famous voice artist, Asadollah Peyman. (The 2016 screening was from an English-dubbed version.) 

Friday 22 April 2022

Interview with Hugo Fregonese

Hugo Fregonese

Films Can't Played Off Too Fast; Public Catch Up, Declares Fregonese

By Richard Bernstein

(The Independent Film Journal, November 1952)

"Phoniness in pictures, as in money, has no real value,” explained Director Hugo Fregonese at lunch. Fregonese has just returned from Europe where he directed the Mike Frankovich production, Decameron Nights, which stars Joan Fontaine and Louis Jourdan.

“I feel that an audience can sense a formula picture,” Fregonese said. “An audience likes to be surprised. They don't like to see the same film over and over with a different cast.”

Fregonese pointed out that nowadays a film goes through the theatre circuit too fast. Many pictures are worth a holdover and don't get it. Pictures should be exploited like plays for longer runs. Many times a person finally gets time to see a picture and finds that it has gone. By the time word-of-mouth on a film gets around, a film is sometimes not even playing in the city anymore.

Friday 15 April 2022

Cinema Reborn 2022 catalogue (featuring The Deer essay)

The 2022 edition of Cinema Reborn focuses on the worldwide activity of film preservation and restoration. Held in Sydney from April 27 to May 1, the festival would see the Aussie premiere of The Deer (Masoud Kimiai, 1974) on which I have written an essay for the festival catalogue. The catalogue is now available in digital format and print formats.

Download the catalogue (in PDF) here.

Friday 25 March 2022

The Drifter's Escape: Hugo Fregonese


A retrospective at Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna (June 25-July 3, 2022)

Curated by Dave Kehr and Ehsan Khoshbakht

As swiftly as some directors changed studios, Hugo Fregonese (1908-87) changed countries. The perfect ‘saddle tramp’ figure, he drifted and made films about drifting and escape. A master of brisk and unsentimental westerns and crime thrillers, with a career spanning over four decades and numerous bases of production – from his home country Argentina, to America, Spain, Italy, the UK and West Germany – Fregonese’s cinema is unjustly underappreciated to the point of obscurity. This is a step in the direction of claiming him as an important figure; one whose cinema of impassioned subjectivity blends the aesthetic of low-budget films with fatalism, myth and raw violence. Fregonese’s name is often associated with the ten films he made during his five-year residency in Hollywood in the 1950s. This programme picks some of the finest from that period to screen alongside films made elsewhere. Forming one of the most coherent cinematic oeuvres that one could expect from a wandering director, this will be one of the major revelations of Il Cinema Ritrovato 2022.

Friday 11 March 2022

The Prose-Poetry Cinema of Ebrahim Golestan

"And the earth is a woman, with reveries and roots," says the Iranian filmmaker Ebrahim Golestan, narrating over the image of a 3,000-year old skeleton as it is unearthed, in his short documentary The Hills of Marlik (1964). This is where the heart of the filmmaker, who recently turned 100, lies: in the earth, to which he returns repeatedly in his films...


Read the full essay -- a tribute to Ebrahim Golestan -- in the March 2022 issue of Sight & Sound magazine.

Wednesday 23 February 2022

Company Cinema in Abadan — A History (by Abbas Baharloo)

Taj Cinema in Abadan

Commissioned by me and originally published in the now defunct Underline magazine, this piece by the prolific (and Abadani) historian of Iranian cinema, Abbas Baharloo, sheds light on a lesser-known and nonetheless very significant chapter in the history of film culture in pre-revolutionary Iran. — EK


The Anglo-Persian Oil Company ushered in a ‘golden age’ of cinema-going in Abadan before nationalisation in 1951. Overseen by the Company, however, popular entertainment and propaganda were mixed, and screenings did little to bridge social divisions. 

By Abbas Baharloo


Many years ago now, Abadan was a city that welcomed immigrants and a place where many settled. Its population was made up of people from many different Iranian and international cities; Isfahanis, Shirazis, Baluch, Kurds, Lors, Arabs, and Azeris lived alongside Britons, Americans, Indians, and people from Rangoon in Burma. At the time Abadan was a bustling city and a vibrant centre of all sorts of cultural and artistic activities. There were leisure clubs; modern cinemas; libraries housing books and other publications in Persian, English, and Arabic; theatre, photography, and gardening associations; concerts of Iranian and foreign music; lectures on literature, music and painting, and sporting competitions. Despite all this, in Abadan doors were not always open to everybody. The prominent Iranian filmmaker Nasser Taghvai, born in Abadan in 1941, remembers it thus:

Wednesday 9 February 2022

This Gun For Hire (Frank Tuttle, 1942)

“Murder didn't mean much to Raven. It was just a new job”. These lines open Graham Greene's novel about an assassin with a cleft lip who is hired to kill a government minister, only to find himself double-crossed by his contractor. Enraged, he seeks revenge while the police are on his tail. Proving adept at translating many of the book's details to the screen, Tuttle was also chiefly responsible for inventing cinema's angelic killer, in the way he reshaped the image of the disfigured Raven into a shiningly handsome yet darkly destructive messenger of death. (The action was also transferred from pre-war England to wartime California). Given unprecedented freedom, Tuttle wrote a treatment based on the book, which Paramount obtained upon publication in 1936 but had abandoned as unfilmable. 

Saturday 29 January 2022

Rivalry in the City

Tehran’s newly built modernist buildings shown during the title sequence of Reghabat dar Shahr [Rivalry in the City] (Uncredited, 1963)

This is the censored and re-edited version of Jonob-e Shahr [South of the City] (Farrokh Ghaffari, 1958)

Monday 24 January 2022


Monogram Pictures, 1942 | 1725 Fleming Street in East Hollywood

From an ad campaign, May 1942:


Promise  vs.  Performance 

A  promise  is  a  sacred  obligation.  Monogram  Pictures  will  not  tolerate  a  promise  unfulfilled. 

A  promise  is  only  as  good  as  the  one  who  makes  it.  As men  are  judged  by  what  they  have  done  in  the  past,  so  we  of  Monogram  Pictures,  with  a  background  of  promises  fulfilled, sincerely  ask  for  your  support  in  what  we  are  offering  for  the season  1942-43. 

We  are  young  in  years,  but  old  in  showmanship.  We  have  approached  the  coming  year  with  a  determination  to  make  this MONOGRAM'S  GREATEST  YEAR! 

Thursday 6 January 2022

Never on Sunday: Under Your Skin (Mikko Niskanen, 1966)

Under Your Skin

NEVER ON SUNDAY is a series of screenings of rare classics, archive masterpieces, obscure delights and forgotten gems taking place the last Sunday of each month at Close-Up Cinema in east London. The first screening, on January 30, is dedicated to Mikko Niskanen's Under Your Skin. Tickets here.

Käpy selän alla [Under Your Skin]

Dir: Mikko Niskanen, 1966, 99 min, 35mm

Directed by Mikko Niskanen, an indispensable figure of Finnish new cinema of the 1960s, Under Your Skin is one of the most significant films in the history of Finnish cinema which, in the spirit of New Wave, embraces a whole new generation of Finns dreaming of "a universal sense of responsibility." (Peter von Bagh). The tender and real depiction of this new politically-conscious generation, as well as fresh cinematic ideas employed, were warmly welcomed by both the Finnish audiences (making the film the second box office hit of 1966) and the critics, the latter leading to the film winning six Jussi awards, the Finnish equivalent of the Oscar.