Had conditions been conducive, maybe, the likes of Abbas Kiarostami, Mohsen Makhmalbaf and Jafar Panahi, would have made more expansive films. Maybe, they wouldn’t have had to make films at all. In much of what they have done as work, the idea is to employ the virtues of subversion and avoid the ills of submission. Where that leads them is to a very nice, isolated middle-ground, carrying a pungent odour of politics shrouded in a child-like innocence.
Only an analysis of Iranian cinema can be as boring. More or less, what Kiarostami and Makhmalbaf have done is a victory for simplicity. Invariably, their actors aren’t trained. Invariably, the camera gets a starring role. Politics is an invisible protagonist, but so crucial are individuals to their film’s heart that censors should seldom snap. John Wayne must have been some draw in those days, for he features frequently in daily discussions.
It may be argued that Iran makes a certain “kind” of film. The model that some had created, others use. Like Venezuelans in beauty pageants, films from Iran are always worthy contestants in film fests.
However, for those testing waters with Iranian films, be warned that drama is overridden by laborious realism. If, for you, the process of watching a film cannot take away from the end result, walk out of your room and have a siesta when the women start the bicycle race in The Day I Became a Woman or when the lonely child takes a long bus ride in The Mirror or when Mr. Badii, in his car, serenely traverses dusty hills looking for someone who would help him commit suicide in The Taste of Cherry. Come back, and the ladies are still on their bicycles.
It is impossible not to marvel at some of the most creative moments in Iranian films though. Close up is spellbinding for its sheer audacity on Kiarostami’s part to replay a part of Makhmalbaf’s life. Gabbeh is magical, especially the scene where the old teacher shows his students the splendour of nature and colour. In Mirror, the little girl is lost and a persistent bus driver tries to get more details from her. Instead of her speaking, you suddenly hear someone say, “Don’t look at the camera” and the film snaps to a different reality.
Spectacular and magnificent are perhaps not adjectives that sit well with these films. Fascinating does. Children of Heaven is fascinating. So is Moments of Innocence and so are many others. Since every order has to change, the current phase of simple yet profound Iranian films will take a different texture at some point. How different it is from the present one will have to be seen.