a bitterly ironic twist of history, the filmmakers associated with the Iranian
New Wave helped usher into power the regime that would continue and intensify
their oppression. Politically conscious
and aesthetically adventurous, the movement essentially came to an end with the
1979 Islamic Revolution it fueled. Jamsheed Akrami’s The Lost Cinema surveys these films that remain largely unseen
within Iran, essentially serving as a series overview when it screens as part
of the Asia Society’s latest retrospective series, Iranian New Wave 1960s-1970s.
like the Asia Society’s series, Lost
Cinema starts with Dariush Mehrjui’s The
Cow, a film secretly submitted to the Venice Film Festival, where it won the
Critics’ Award. Sound familiar? Probably what made Merhjui’s film so
politically incorrect was its depiction of abject rural poverty at a time when
the Shah was trumpeting Iran modernization.
Of course, it is easy to understand why the portrayal of the deceitful secret
policeman in Parviz Sayyad’s Dead End continued
to be banned under the Revolutionary Islamic government.
a tale of allegorical repression and revolution such as Bahman Farmanara’s Tall Shadows of the Wind became even
more radioactive. Even an ostensibly
apolitical documentary like Manouchehr Tayyab’s Religions in Iran remained on the outs after the revolution. A kind
of visual essay comparing and contrasting the religions officially sanctioned
by the Shah (Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism), it more or less
placed all four on equal footing. Right, one can see how that would be a
problem with the new bosses.
everyone loathes admitting it, the Shah’s rule comes off sounding comparatively
less monolithic than that of the Ayatollah.
After all, these films were largely funded by the government, which reportedly
enjoyed the international prestige they generated. The filmmakers and state agencies seemed to
be engaged a strange dance of denial, but after the Revolution (and what one
filmmaker describes as an initial “four months of freedom”) artistic freedom
was curtailed even more severely than before.
Indeed, the fact so many of the featured filmmakers were interviewed in
exile speaks volumes.
While Akrami only examines a small number of
films in detail, he includes representative features, shorts, and
documentaries. In some cases, the analysis
can be a bit spoilery, but they also provide specific cultural context for a
fuller appreciation of each film. It is a lucid introduction to some heavily
allegorical films. Recommended for
students of film and Persian culture, The
Lost Cinema screens this Friday (11/8) at the Asia Society, with Akrami
participating in a Q&A afterwards.
(As a side note, New Yorkers may also want to catch series curator La
Frances Hui appearing on CUNY-TV City Cinematheque to discuss Tran Ahn Hung’s Scent
of Green Papayas.)
Labels: Asia Society, Iranian Cinema, Iranian New Wave