Days of Dawn in Teheran
International star directors, such as Kiarostami, Panahi, Makhmalbaf, would hardly allow themselves to been seen at Teheran's Fadjr Film Festival - partly because their films are censored, partly because they view the European film festivals as a more appropriate platform for their work.
However, many of the old masters were still represented. For instance, Madjid Madjidi, respected in Europe as a cinema esoteric and nostalgic, directed a religious parable - "The Weeping Willow". Through a miracle a blind literature professor sees ocular light and regains his vision. He wishes his previous blind existence to the devil, disposing of it once and for all, including his entire brail library. Suddenly, he is struck blind once again.
The male protagonists in the new film "A Woman Too Many" by Islamic feminist Tamineh Milanis also appear a little far-sighted. It's a melodrama portraying sensitive women who in the clutches of their male masters, suffer under domination. One day, the husband brings a second woman home with him which needless-to-say immediately creates much bad blood, not to mention a lot of shouting.
Another great Iranian filmmaker on hand was Rakhshan Bani-Etemad. With the release four years ago of "Under the Skin of the City" he unleashed a new flood of films critical of the system.
Now, he has presented another film with noticeable substance, "Gilaneh". A woman is shown in two snapshots: once during the first gulf war and once in the latest Iraq war. She sacrifices herself for her disabled son who is one nervous wreck. This is also representative of an entire generation.
In a vastly divided Iran one thing becomes evident - that many of the new films reflect a general, almost global mood of wars and disasters.
An entire section of the festival is devoted to the devastating earthquake in Bam in December, 2003 which claimed the lives of some 68,000 people. "Wake up, Arezu!" was filmed in one long sequence by Kianush Ayyari. It focuses on the events directly following the disaster, in the midst of the devastation and collapsed loam houses, as a family father searches for missing members of his immediate family.
Not just since 2001 has Iran's poor neighbouring country to the east with its human masses knocking at the borders been the subject of Iranian movies.
Since Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s 1986 film "The Cyclist" Afghan refugees and illegal foreign labourers have been appearing over and over again in Iranian films. Some have come close to receiving prizes at European festivals, like Jalili’s "Delbaran" or possibly, Madjidi's "Baran" or the films of the Makhmalbaf dynasty.
The Taliban regime has often served filmmakers making a travesty of their own home grown ideology. Mohsen Makhmalbaf, the most active recorder of Afghans, does most of his shooting outside Iran.
"I am not Bin Laden"
Ahmad Tahami-Nezhad's children's film "I am not Bin Laden" pursues the wandering path of an illegal Afghan who, in the end, is taken hostage against his will by a sympathizing school class holding a plastic pistol. The clumsy comedy ends almost tragically with the deportation of the young man; however, the last scene shows him once again moving among the hustle and bustle of Teheran.
Abolqasem Talebi's "The Afghan Bride" tells the story of a teacher who sticks to his mandate as an educator, despite strong opposition by the Taliban.
Iran's other neighbour to the west, Iraq, brings western and eastern histories together. "Loneliness of the Wind" by Vahid Moussaeeian, is about a UN worker named Hana who learns of the expulsion of 184,000 Kurds and of Saddam Hussein's poison gas attacks, while simultaneously the secret of her own origins comes to light.
Comprehensive conflicts, wandering heroes and heroines and stories that transcend all borders and time. Iran, despite being an somewhat isolated country, appears rather topical in the choice of its film material.
This fits well with the fact that this year there were an unusually high number of international co-productions, including with Germany, one of Iran’s most important trading partners. "Schulze Gets the Blues" made many Iranian friends.
"Baba Aziz" was an Iranian production featuring a Tunisian director, in which France, Germany and the Maghreb state of Hungary were involved. The version released for Teheran was four minutes shorter than the international rental company version: a scene featuring an Indian belly dancer was eventually censored and edited out.
With "The Colour Purple" all 97 minutes of the film fell victim to the censors. Ebrahim Hatamikia’s film was supposed to be about a love relationship – obviously it was much too indecent.
Certain borders are an unambiguously mined area, only to open others indirectly. It could easily escape the festival visitor that there was a concerted effort to direct foreign guests to special screenings, keeping them away from the remaining festival events and from the Iranian audience.
He who undertakes the journey in a collective taxi through the murderous city traffic, fighting his way to a genuine cinema, will find himself virtually in his own film. The "Dah-e Fadjr", "Ten Days of the Aurora" takes place on the occasion of the revolutionary festivities every year. Everyone here refers to them as "Dah-e Sadjr" – "the sour days."
A taxi driver comments on the topical news: "Uranium enrichment? Knickknacks! We already have four or five atomic bombs! "And terrorists? Of course, the Mullahs support terrorists, the same way Bush does! In regards to the latest US war of liberation no one here has many illusions.
Cash flow at the box office
Enthusiastic movie-going youths form long queues at the box office. Film posters promote "Duel", at a cost of four million dollars probably the most expensive Iranian production of all times.
Head-strong rebels who heckle the omnipresent guardians of the law, sassy young girls who let their headscarves slide further back over their heads, films that are critical of the double standards and corruption of the rulers have been for the past three or four years a part of everyday life in Iran’s popular movie houses.
Whether in "Coma" - a dramaturgical false-dead comedy about the friendship between a suburban macho and an uptown sunny boy or in "Boutique" where a girl gets two boys to shape up who openly display homosexual tendencies.
Movies that crack long-standing taboos, incite scandals, and poke fun at the more commercial cinema productions are a huge counterpart to the long time subversive-metaphoric operating art house films.
Then, shortly before the end of the festival a miracle occurs: overnight 80 centimeters of snow falls on Teheran. The city's young people climb into their cars and proceed to cause a kilometre-long traffic jam in the north of the capital.
Flirtatious calls are made on cell phones, Christina Aguilera music loudly fills the air, snow balls are flying, and some reckless individuals even lace the Iranian-Islamic beer with laboratory alcohol.
On the fringes of this caravan of carefree pleasure revolutionary guardsmen clad in black wool stocking caps stand isolated. They do not interfere. The elections are only a few short months away…
© Amin Farzanefar
Translation from German: Mark Rossman
Dossier: Iranian Cinema
Iran's film culture has been transformed since the Islamic revolution: from the state propaganda films to today's socially critical productions. We take a look at the various facets and examine its resonance in the West.
Fajr Theater Festival in Teheran
Teheran's Fajr Festival opened with a joint German-Iranian production: "Occupied Territories" by director Helena Waldmann. The piece met with a particularly enthusiastic response on the part of the women in the audience. Martin Ebbing attended the performance.