went from being the Great Dictator to the Little Tramp in a matter of hours.
Still, it is hard to feel sorry for “His Majesty,” because he totally had it
coming. His five year-old grandson is a different matter, especially when the
revolution takes an inevitably ugly turn. Karma finally catches up with this
Soviet-style hold-over in Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s The President (trailer here), which screens during the 2016 Iranian Film Festival DC at the National Gallery of Art.
Dachi, or “His Royal Highness” as the servants call him, is about as entitled
as it gets. He is in awe of his grandfather, the President of this
fictionalized Eastern European-Transcaucasian nation. The President dotes on
Dachi in return, especially since his parents were assassinated by rebels, an
awkward truth the old man does not have the heart to share. That would seem to
be an ill omen, but the President heedlessly continues his tyrannical ways. He
probably could have gotten out while the getting was good with the rest of his
family, but the President was convinced the sudden outbreak of riots and street
fighting was a temporary setback.
the indulgent grandfather allowed Dachi to stay behind with him. As the
rebellion intensifies, the President’s officers and bodyguards turn on him to
save themselves. Forced to disguise themselves as street musicians, the
President and Dachi will rub unwashed shoulders with his formerly oppressed
subjects. It will be an eye-opening experience for them both.
commentators have noted the uncanny resemblance the President and Dachi bear to
Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko and his uniform-sporting son. Even
with different wardrobe choices, it is hard to imagine a film about the violent
overthrow of despot in his neighborhood could otherwise carry the Lukashenko
seal of approval.
is also hard to envision The President being
well received in Makhmalbaf’s native Iran either. After all, it is just as
critical of the revolution that topples the old tyrant as it is of his
iron-fisted misrule. Frankly, the film is downright Burkean in its revulsion
for revolutionary excess. Of course, Makhmalbaf has seen it all first hand.
Once an ardent supporter of the Iranian Revolution, he went into exile in
protest of government censorship and has since evaded four assassination
though The President could be fairly
described as an allegorical fable, it is unusually nuanced and ethically
thorny. Misha Gomiashvili’s delicately modulated performance as the increasingly
haggard President is a major reason why. In every scene it is hard to
completely damn him, but also impossible to even partially forgive his ever so
The President, we are constantly
reminded absolute power corrupts absolutely. However, Makhmalbaf just as
vividly shows viewers the score-settling and opportunism that comes with
revolution. He makes a profound distinction between the real deal dissidents,
such as the tortured wretches His Majesty and Dachi temporarily fall in with,
and the former flunkies of oppression now brutalizing the weak and vulnerable
in the name of revolution. It might sound laborious, but Makhmalbaf maintains a
high degree of tension and a vigorous pace from the first scene to the last.
Indeed, it is a bold, principled cinematic vision
that deserves serious attention and study. Very highly recommended, The President (distributed by Corinth
Films) screens this Sunday (1/17) at the National Gallery of Art, as part of the
Iranian Film Festival DC and the following Thursday (1/21) and Sunday (1/24) at
the Museum of Fine Arts as part of the Boston Festival of Films from Iran.
Labels: Iranian Cinema, Iranian Film Fest DC '16, Mohsen Makhmalbaf