a pre-Islamic Persian king and an Armenian princess cannot make love work, than
what hope does anyone have? Considered
the rough Persian equivalents of Romeo and Juliet, Khosrow and Shirin ruled
their respective kingdoms, but their love was always beset with
complications. It would be fascinating
to see Abbas Kiarostami take on the legendary romance, but he tells the tale
immortalized in Nizami Ganjavi’s epic poem rather obliquely in Shirin, which screens tonight as part of
the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s retrospective series, A Close-Up of Abbas Kiarostami.
someone has adapted Khosrow and Shirin for
the big screen, but it was not really Kiarostami. Instead, he filmed over one hundred Iranian
actresses and Juliette Binoche as they watch that hypothetical movie. At least it has a soundtrack, so viewers can
follow the story that has tears flowing almost right from the start. The two protagonists fall deeply in love with
each other before they even meet properly.
Naturally, their star-crossed love never runs smoothly. Eventually, Khosrow marries Caesar’s daughter
to secure Rome’s military support retaking his former throne. It is a long marriage, complete with
kids. Meanwhile, Shirin abdicates,
moving to Iran to live a life of self-denial and waiting. However, the plan almost veers off into left
field when she meets this smitten stone-carver named Farhad.
sounds like great epic stuff, but that’s as far as we can tell. Shirin is
another example of Kiarostami subverting and de-privileging narrative. For Kiarostami, what the epic romance means
to the famous viewers is more important than the tale itself. The results are rather more interesting in
theory than as a sustained viewing experience.
be fair, Shirin offers a parade of
familiar faces for those well versed in Iranian cinema. Indeed, it is rather significant who is
present and who is not. For instance, Golshifteh
Farahani appears late in the film, but she would soon find herself disowned by
her country for appearing in a Western film, Ridley Scott’s Body of Lies. Of course, Shohreh Aghdashloo, the star of
Kiarostami’s pre-Revolutionary The Report
was long gone. Also missing from the
proceedings is the then lesser known Marzieh Vafamehr, who would later be
sentenced to ninety lashes and a year in prison (an insane judgment even by
current standards of the Islamist regime) for appearing in My Tehran for Sale. However,
Leila Hatami of the future Oscar winner A Separation is present and accounted for.
feeling rife with meaning, Kiarostami’s films seem to spur deep tealeaf
reading. Arguably, the auteur gives the
epic a pronounced feminist spin, emphasizing how much Shirin sacrificed
compared to Khosrow’s relative comfort.
It is a reading encouraged by the actresses’ heavy emotional responses
to what they were not really seeing.
Yet, there is just as often a lingering doubt as to just how much is
wishful interpretation with Kiarostami, who has never taken social criticism as
far as his former protégé Jafar Panahi.
never comes across gimmicky, thanks to
Kiarostami’s sensitive hand on the rudder, but it still overstays its welcome
as a feature. Half an hour or so would
have been sufficient to create the desired effect, even if it would have required
a shorter tragedy. Interesting at times,
but not essential, Shirin screens
tonight (2/16) at the Francesca Beale Theater as part of the FSLC’s Kiarostami
retrospective, which concludes tomorrow.
Labels: Abbas Kiarostami, Iranian Cinema, Juliette Binoche