‘Just as all Hollywood films – no matter how good or bad – are part of the Hollywood culture, so are all Iranian films part of New Iranian Cinema.’ Mohammad Beheshti
Iranian cinema has, like the cinema of many countries over the last century, undergone many changes since its inception. Contemporary Iranian film is rightly regarded as an exemplary example of world cinema, with many films winning international prizes and engaging a worldwide audience. But has this unique cinema come at a cost? Iranian Cinema Uncensored: Contemporary Film-makers since the Islamic Revolution seeks to understand the challenges Iranian filmmakers face when having to adhere to the restrictions imposed upon them since the revolution in 1979. Shiva Rahbaran examines Iran’s cinematic new wave by interviewing some of its directors to reveal the role of the film-maker in the creation of acceptable work. Even for those familiar with some of the major works and directors this is a valuable insight into the process and creation of one of the world’s most consistently engaging body of films. Rahbaran’s series of interviews offer perspective and context, broadening from aspects of film-making to incorporate wider issues about creation and restriction asking, in many cases, the vexed question as to whether these restrictions are a hindrance or source of inspirational necessity. The answers, whether the film-makers are still creating films in Iran or have relocated to another country in order to create them abroad, are as diverse as they are fascinating.
Each of the interviews, with such directors as Kiarostami, Panahi, Mehrjui, Behesthi, Farmanara and Beyzaie, provides a great deal of insight, but Rahbaran’s opening chapter also offers a real perspective as to the way that cinema in Iran has changed specifically following the Islamic revolution, where some aspects of film that were briefly banned after the revolution have since been reinstated with minor, if any, alterations while others have been thrown to the wayside or to the bootleg and satellite television markets without authoritarian approval. These issues form part of the questions that she asks her interviewees to address. One of the primary aspects of interest includes that of the portrayal of women in terms of both costume (a release from the objectification of women in Western cinema) and characterisation within film but other issues prevail too. Part of this stems from post-revolution acceptability for what can be depicted on and off screen but also refers to the popular low budget Film Farsi movies that are discussed with a number of interviewees. These (inspired by Hollywood, Bollywood and Turkish films) are often subject to fewer restrictions. Another issue raised is in how some films have addressed the subject of the war between Iraq and Iran from 1980 to 1989. (Similar issues have been addressed in all cinematic cultures both during war and the post-war period, and the balance between acceptability and freedom of expression is not restricted to one culture.)
With a broad selection of film-makers who participated, perhaps the only omission (or rather omissions given the films made by his family that would have been a fascinating addition) is in the final chapter about the films of Mohsen Makhmalbaf where Shiva Rahbaran outlines the tale of her ultimately in vain attempt to interview the director. Watching Samira Makhmalbaf’s persistence at persuading Afghan actors to take part in her film in Hana Makhmalbaf’s Joy of Madness, it seems a shame that even she was unable to participate, despite being ‘polite and obliging’ when Rahbaran contacted her, because her father did not want his family’s involvement with the project.
Essential, insightful and balanced reading that reveals much about its subject and which enhances the role of Iranian cinema on the world stage, Iranian Cinema Uncensored: Contemporary Film-makers since the Islamic Revolution makes for a fascinating read.