Picture credits: The Times of Israel
My first introduction to Iranian movies was through Majid Majidi’s Children of heaven followed by his Baran. Only two movies and I became a fan of Iranian cinema. Naturally, I was overjoyed when the feature film Yalda: a night of forgiveness, won the prize for the best world cinema at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.
Over the last few weeks, all we have been reading about Iran is its conflict with the United States, World War 3 and of course the brutal assassination of major general Qassem Soleimani. War is destructive. But what’s worse is the media’s disproportionate attention to positive news and exaggeration of the negatives.
Did you know that as per a 2019 survey, Iran is one of the safest countries for foreign tourists? Much safer than many of the European nations. Or that it is the third fastest-growing tourist destination in the world?
Movies dispel myths. My perception of Iran and the Middle East changed drastically after watching Baran and Football undercover. It’s really sad that none of these movies have made it to Netflix (UK).
Massoud Bakhshi’s second feature film, Yalda, focuses on the plight of Maryam (Sadaf Asgari), a 22-year-old Iranian woman who is sentenced to death after accidentally killing her 65-year-old husband. Her last hope is to appear on the reality TV show “Joy of Forgiveness” and her husband’s daughter Mona gets to decide her fate.
A still from Yalda, A night of forgiveness Picture credits: Screen Daily
Apparently, Mona’s possible pardon could release Maryam from her death sentence in accordance with Iranian law. Bizzare, isn’t it? Imagine a game show that trivializes a convict’s life-or-death fate for public consumption. As wild as it sounds, a version of this reality TV entertainment apparently really exists in modern-day Iran.
Although this movie doesn’t have as many layers as an Asghar Farhadi, it demonstrates the existing class difference and power play which is prevalent in every other city in the world.
Top 5 Iranian movies that should be on your checklist
Asghar Farhadi is easily one of the best directors in the world. He has made several films over the last two decades but About Elly is undoubtedly my favourite. It starts with a very simple story- a group of friends going out on a holiday and eventually, turns out to have multiple dimensions. A young teacher, Elly, who joins them on the trip, suddenly disappears leading to a possibility of multiple plots. The movie is mystical, unpredictable. The conclusion, however, is open to interpretation and leaves you spellbound.
Majid Majidi made me fall in love with Iranian cinema and Baran is one of his best. Set during the times when there were many Afghan refugees living on the outskirts of Tehran, it’s a story of innocence and pure love. Lateef falls in love with the 17-year old Baran and is devastated after knowing that she has to go back to Afghanistan.
The end of the movie is chilling and leaves you wanting a happy ending for these lovers. As Baran covers herself with her burqa and walks to the truck which would take her home, her shoe gets stuck in the mud. Lateef gets on his knees, takes her shoe out of the mud, and hands it to Baran so she can wear it and leave. The truck takes Baran away. Left alone in the empty place, Lateef stares at the footstep in the mud left by Baran’s shoe and smiles while the rain covers it.
3. A separation
Yet another Asghar Farhadi film, A separation received great reviews and critical acclaim all over the world.
Deborah Young of The Hollywood reporter wrote from the Berlinale: “Just when it seemed impossible for Iranian filmmakers to express themselves meaningfully outside the bounds of censorship, Asghar Farhadi’s Nader and Simin, A Separation comes along to prove the contrary. Apparently simple on a narrative level yet morally, psychologically and socially complex, it succeeds in bringing Iranian society into focus for in a way few other films have done.”
4. The colour of paradise
This one was released in 1999 but is stunningly beautiful and is still relevant, will always be. Visually magnificent and wrenchingly moving, this film tells the story of a boy whose inability to see the world only enhances his ability to feel its powerful forces. It will definitely restore your faith in humanity and kindness.
5. Fireworks Wednesday
Fireworks Wednesday is a thoroughly engrossing drama showing Farhadi’s cool skill in dissecting the Iranian middle classes and the unhappiness of marriage. This story is about a young woman Roohi, who gets a job as a maid with a family and unwillingly gets to know all their secrets and lies.
Iranians: They’re Just Like Us! As are Syrians, Iraqis, Sudanese, Somalis, Libyans, and Yemeni. And perhaps one of the easiest ways to relate to them is by watching movies from these countries.