Wednesday 25 October 2023

Tabi’at-e Bijan [Still Life] (Sohrab Shahid Saless, 1974)

Still Life

Tabi'at-e Bijan (Still Life). 1974. Iran. Written and directed by Sohrab Shahid Saless. With Zadour Bonyadi, Mohammed Kani, Hedayatollah Navid. 93 min.

An elderly railway signalman is unable to understand the meaning of “retirement” when he is handed over his retirement letter. Still Life, the film that shook Iranian cinema to its core and won the Silver Bear at the Berlinale, is an unforgettable, masterfully paced exercise in stillness and loneliness that doesn’t shrink from depicting exploitative tendencies within contemporary Iranian society. Shahid Saless uses the inarticulacy of his protagonist as an aesthetic strategy and finds poetry in seemingly dead moments. Made only in 11 days and shot with the painterly vision of the cinematographer Houshang Baharlou, this landmark work pushed the boundaries of cinema like no other Iranian film of the 1970s. – Ehsan Khoshbakht

Tuesday 24 October 2023

Night of the Hunchback (Farrokh Ghaffari, 1964) | MoMA

Shab-e Ghouzi (Night of the Hunchback). 1964. Iran. Directed by Farrokh Ghaffari. Screenplay by Ghaffari, Jalal Moghadam. With Ghaffari, Pari Saberi, Paria Hakemi, Mohamad Ali Keshavarz.

Inspired by a tale in A Thousand and One Nights, this black comedy takes place over the course of one of those nights, as a troupe of traveling actors, the father of a bride, and a hairdresser and his assistant (played by director Farrokh Ghaffari himself) try to rid themselves of an unwelcome corpse while uptown Tehranis party to Ray Charles R&B. In a nod to Alfred Hitchcock’s The Trouble with Harry, Ghaffari, also a critic and film historian, intended this film as a critique of upper-class pretensions and an ode to simple folkloric pleasures, and while the film was a commercial flop the film nonetheless gained international attention and promised a new beginning for Iranian cinema. – Ehsan Khoshbakht

Monday 16 October 2023

Dayereh-ye Mina [The Cycle] (Dariush Mehrjui, 1974)

The Cycle (Dariush Mehrjui, 1974-76)

Dariush Mehrjui and his wife were brutally murdered on October 14, 2023. MoMA screens this film on November 1.

This harrowing tale of poverty and drug addiction in the slums, in which people desperately sell their blood to survive, is based on Gholam-Hossein Sa’dei’s short story “Garbage Dump.” Banned due to objections from the Iranian Medical Association, The Cycle was shelved for three years before it was eventually shown at the Shiraz Arts Festival. The left saw the story of the poor selling contaminated blood for injection into new veins as a metaphor for the corruption of Pahlavis. For Mehrjui, however, this was more a candid investigation of a real problem, and it eventually helped inspire the formation of the Iranian Blood Transfusion Organization. The casting of the popular filmfarsi star Forouzan was controversial, but her fine performance proved the versatility of Iranian actors. – Ehsan Khoshbakht

The Cow (Dariush Mehrjui, 1969) | MoMA

The Cow (Dariush Mehrjui, 1969)

Dariush Mehrjui and his wife were brutally murdered on October 14, 2023. MoMA screens this film on October 26.

This milestone of the Iranian New Wave portrays, with heartbreaking intensity, the themes of solitude and obsession in the story of a poor villager (unforgettably played by Ezzatolah Entezami) whose only source of joy and livelihood is his cow. When the cow is mysteriously killed one night, the metamorphosis begins. Based on short stories by psychiatrist Gholam-Hossein Sa’edi, The Cow was smuggled to the Venice Film Festival in defiance of an export ban, where it was almost immediately and internationally recognized as a masterpiece. Poignantly wrapped in layers of religion and leftist politics (two major forces of the 1979 revolution), The Cow came under the spotlight more than a decade later, when Ayatollah Khomeini hailed it as an example of “good cinema,” as opposed to the many “corrupting films” of the Pahlavi era. – Ehsan Khoshbakht