Sunday, August 31, 2014

Pre-Revolutionary Cinema and the Iranian New Wave (1962-1979)

I'm currently putting together a zine entitled An Introduction to Iranian Cinema, which will be released at BOOKMACHINE books + zines on Friday, September 5th during the Downtown Fullerton Art Walk.  There will be a corresponding art show and screenings of excerpts from films we've watched. Here's an excerpt...

Pre-Revolutionary Cinema and the Iranian New Wave (1962-1979)


In the 1960s, there were 'New Wave' movements in the cinema of numerous countries. The Iranian New Wave arguably began with "The House Is Black" (1962), courageously shot in a leper colony by Forough Farrokhzad, who is widely regarded as the greatest Iranian poet of the 20th century and the first woman in Persian literature to write openly about her sexual desire.   The pioneers of the Iranian New Wave made innovative art films with highly political and philosophical tones and poetic language.  The factors leading to the rise of the New Wave in Iran were, in part, due to the intellectual and political movements of the time. A romantic climate was developing and a socially committed literature took shape in the 1950s and reached a peak in the 1960s, which may consider as the golden era of contemporary Persian Literature.  Iranian New Wave films shared some characteristics with the European art films of the period, in particular Italian Neorealism.  However, in her article 'Real Fictions', critic Rose Issa argues that Iranian films have a distinctively Iranian cinematic language "that champions the poetry in everyday life and the ordinary person by blurring the boundaries between fiction and reality, feature film with documentary." Here are  some important films from the Iranian New Wave...

The House is Black (1962) directed by Forough Farrokhzad.  A look at life and suffering in a leper colony focusing on the human condition and the beauty of creation.  It is spliced with poet Farrokhzad's narration of quotes from the The Bible, the Koran, and her own poetry. It was the only film she directed before her death in 1967. During the shooting she became attached to a child of two lepers, whom she later adopted.  Although the film attracted little attention outside Iran when released, it has since been recognised as a landmark in Iranian film. Reviewer Eric Henderson described the film; "One of the prototypal essay films, The House is Black paved the way for the Iranian New Wave."

Still frame from Forough Farrokhzad's "The House is Black" (1962)

The Brick and the Mirror (1967) directed by Ebrahim Golestan.  Moody realism conveys a stark poetry in this tale of a cab driver stuck with an abandoned baby in his back seat.  Moral quandaries and social fears vie with eroticism when the driver and a lonely woman spend the night with the baby as the phantom facsimile of a family.  The film’s finale, set in an orphanage, is a stunning, haunting piece of social realism that was to send ripples of influence through the next four decades of Iranian cinema.  This film is actually available to watch in its entirety on Youtube here:


The Cow (1969) directed by Darius Mehrjui.  The story of  the close relationship between a middle-aged Iranian villager named Hassan and his beloved cow—the only cow in the village.  When the cow dies, Hassan gradually goes insane following a nervous breakdown and believes he is the cow, adopting such mannerisms as eating hay. His wife and the villagers try their best to bring him back to the normal life but all in vain.  The film is a metaphorical and poetic meditation on the changing values of rural and urban Iran.   Islamic leader Ayatollah Khomeini was reported to have admired this film. This in turn was reported to have been the saving grace that allowed Iranian cinema to continue without becoming completely banned after the Iranian Revolution.

Still frame from Darius Mehrjui's "The Cow" (1969)


Tranquility In The Presence Of Others (1972) directed by Naser Taghvai.  A colonel, who has two daughters working as nurses in Tehran, retires to a small city.  He marries a teacher, and travels with her to Tehran, and finds that his daughters have changed.  The elder daughter commits suicide and the younger daughter goes through an ill-fated marriage.  The father, observing the problems of his children, goes insane and is confined to an asylum.  The only thing that helps him is the kindness of his wife Manizheh.  The film won a diploma of honor at the Venice Film Festival in 1972.  Noted primarily for its political and social content, it was banned by the government for several years.  

Poster for Naser Taghvai's "Tranquility in the Presence of Others" (1972)

Check out the Facebook event page for this zine release/art show/screening event HERE.

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