Middle Eastern Magic

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Middle Eastern Magic

Postby trevor826 » Mon Jun 06, 2005 6:26 pm

Iran has some of the most highly regarded directors working today and produces some great films. I'll comment on all the films I've seen from Iran and the Middle East.

For films directed by Abbas Kiarostami please use the link:

The films of Abbas Kiarostami

Please feel free to add your own comments, reviews, criticisms to this thread.

Please note: If a film is listed as a review, it may contain spoilers.

INDEX. In alphabetical order.

20 Fingers - 2004

Apple, The - 1998 & Blackboards - 2000 arsaib4 comments

Beautiful City - 2004

The Color of Paradise - 1999

Cow, The - 1969

Crimson Gold - 2003 arsaib4 review.

Cyclist, The - 1987 wpqx review.

Don - 1998

Hidden Half, The - 2001 wpqx comments

Hole, The

Joy of Madness - 2003

The Mirror - 1998

A Moment of Innocence - 1996

A Moment of Innocence - 1996 indepth review by wpqx

Offside - 2006

Red Wind - 2002

Silence, The - 1998 review by wpqx

A Simple Event review by A.

Still Life - 1974

Stray Dogs - 2004

Taste of Cherry, The - 1997 chard09 In depth comments.

Turtles Can Fly - 2004 Thread started by Howard Schumann.

The White Balloon - 1995 comments by wpqx

Still to come.

To be continued

Cheers Trev.


Re: Middle Eastern Magic

Postby trevor826 » Mon Jun 06, 2005 6:28 pm

The Hole - Vasid Nasirian

The first Iranian animation I have seen, only around 5 minutes long but it effectively puts across a message about drugs. Rough but uniquely stylish, shows the pleasure, addiction and self destruction that opium can bring.

I assume that there must be a large problem with drugs in Iran although it's not something you hear about or that has come across in any film I've seen.

If this is a typical example of animation from Iran then I would love to see more, I was surprised at the quality and style of it.

Recommended as an example of film from Iran and as a great example of animation.

Cheers Trev.

Shown as part of the CinemaIran season on Channel 4 in the UK.

Re: Middle Eastern Magic

Postby trevor826 » Mon Jun 06, 2005 6:38 pm

edited by admin

20 Fingers (2004)

Moved to 20 Fingers

Cheers Trev.

Re: Middle Eastern Magic

Postby trevor826 » Sat Jun 11, 2005 5:21 pm

Bade sorkh (2002) - Red Wind

Directed by Ali Mohammad Ghasemi

Starring Maryam Bagi, Amir Shokr Gozar

A short film (14m) shot in stark black & white with excellent use of natural lighting.

The story centers on a coffee house where a woman runs in screaming that her husband has been murdered.,what follows is an indication of the harm religious fanaticism can cause especially in an area where religion is a vital part of peoples lives.

Its quite scary that someone who in most parts of the world would be locked up as a dangerous psychotic could (in some places) convince people that he is acting as the hand of God!

Recommended for the cinematography which wouldnt look out of place in a Bergman film.

Cheers Trev.

No BBFC rating, at least a 12.

Re: Middle Eastern Magic

Postby wpqx » Sat Jun 11, 2005 6:08 pm

I'll help you out, and share my review of the Cyclist.

The path to appreciating Iranian film can be a long one. Few people truly appreciate the films from this troubled country at first. Various critics and know-it-alls who claim the Iranian New Wave to be vital turn us onto it. Yet, after one or two films, even the best of them, we are less than convinced. The films are slow, and nothing really happens in any of them. We cant adequately judge the films, because they stand unique in the history of film. There is no already established criterion by which to judge these films, and therefore the films become challenging in a whole new way. We not only dont know what to expect of them, but even if we like or dislike a particular film.
The motto of the Iranian film movement should be just one word, patience. All of the films try our patience, and they require us to bear with it. You wont get melodrama, attractive actors, action, or even laughs, but you do get something that makes their films worth their weight in gold. Iranian films make us think, and that is why we dislike them at first, but we grow to appreciate and love them. The Cyclist, an early triumph by director Mohsen Makhmalbaf is as vital as any film from the last twenty years, but you might want to wait before seeing it.
Iranian films get better with each successive film. Saying that this is the best of them all may be an obsolete statement by the time I see another Iranian film. Likewise, seeing this film first, may leave you disappointed, as nearly any introductory Iranian film will do. So lets take a look at exactly why this film is brilliant and (like the remainder of Iranian film) worth your time.
America does not get a good look at the Middle East. What we see are stereotypes, crazy leaders, religious fanatics, poor and abused people, and anything else that our government believes will help justify military involvement. The Cyclist was a film made when Iran was considered the enemy of the world. Back when the US policy was to give Iraq weapons and training to fight them, how quickly things change. It is not surprising that The Cyclist took more than a decade to find its way over to America. Why, because this film viewed Iranians as individuals, as people. Sure it is not a grand picture of the people, one that contradicts our notions of Arabians, but it is a human picture. How could the US show a film that viewed Iranians as hard working people, desperate for medical care, employment, and anything to take their minds off of their seemingly intolerable conditions?
The Cyclist is an overwhelming story of one such individual who goes through great lengths just to pay his wifes medical expenses. In order to raise money, he agrees to ride a bicycle around a circle for seven days straight, with no sleep. Whether or not he makes it doesnt seem to be the real story. Makhmalbaf is stressing what led him into the situation. Iran is a nation run by the few. It is also overburdened with Afghan immigrants, one of which is the cyclist. These Afghans get the worst from both sides here. They are exploited by the few in charge, digging for money that might not even keep them alive. In one scene a driver asks for two diggers for fifty a day (unfamiliar with the currency or equivalent), when nearly thirty men pile onto the truck, he still asks for just two diggers, this time at thirty.
Our cyclist is the one who gets the roughest treatment of all. Anyone who knows about sleep deprivation knows that it doesnt take long before insanity sets in. Somewhere around day three, the mind ceases to function properly. With seven days of not just being awake, but riding a bike, we are not surprised at the end of seven days when he continues to ride, oblivious to all around him praising his heroism.
The media is making him out to be a hero. They claim that they need more men like him, but the truth is they have plenty like him. He is a desperate man, willing to go to extreme measures, faking a suicide attempt to receive charity earlier in the film. We know he is not alone, because he got the idea watching someone else do it even earlier. He too is in line with the fifty Afghan diggers when the call goes out for just two. The people saying they need more men like him are a slap in the face. Their exploitation is only possible if there is a readily available work force, and one that accepts their exploitation.
What we see happen is hard to watch, and even a little hard to understand. Throughout the film people are trying to make him fail. Money is bet on each side whether or not he will last, several million (if that makes the previous monetary value in perspective). The government believes that he is setting an example for the Afghanistan immigrants, and they resort to having them dig miles away for inflated wages just to get rid of them. Throughout they try to drug him, sabotage his bike, and even the referee is bribed. Then at the end, the promoter takes the money, as well as any charity from the poor onlookers, runs off with plans to marry the palm reader. Our cyclist is still riding, delusional, without a penny more to his name, and a wife as sick as ever still in the hospital.
From a technical standpoint, we can certainly applaud the film. It is a well-actualized picture that has its subtle ways of evoking art. Makhmalbaf employs various camera angles to achieve some remarkable shots, particularly of the motorcyclist in his sideshow ride. He also employs non-temporal editing techniques, with a few flashbacks thrown in. Some things, like the contrasting motorcyclist, seem to be thrown in for arts sake. There are characters and elements that dont directly serve the story, but perhaps that is just another way we must use independent thought to assess their relativity.
Makhmalbaf chooses to end the film without a real resolution. This is the single greatest proponent of thought in the film. We dont have the option of knowing the story and the happily ever after epilogue. Instead we have an ambiguous ending where nothing is resolved. The seven-day ride is over, but it hasnt ended. The cyclist is a hero, but what is to become of his heroism. Will his wife be cared for, what about the money he was supposed to get? What of the other Afghans, surely their problems dont end with the conclusion of the ride. All of this makes us ponder exactly what the future holds for all involved. We know it is unstable, and since it isnt an American film, we shouldnt assume things will work out. What we are left with is a compelling, deeply felt, and brilliantly realized picture with a heavy humanist influence. Unlike Renoir or Kurosawa however, Makhmalbaf believes that human beings arent good at heart. Like those two however, he doest believe they are capable of extraordinary things.

Re: Middle Eastern Magic

Postby trevor826 » Sat Jun 11, 2005 6:16 pm

Thanks wpqx,The Cyclist is one I've heard a lot about but never seen, good essay as well.

Daan (199 Don

Directed by Abolfazl Jalili

I assume that there must be a large problem with drugs in Iran although it's not something you hear about or that has come across in any film I've seen. From my first post in this section.

Don is a documentary style film concerning Farhad, a nine year old struggling to survive and help support his family, his father is a heroin addict who when he cant afford to pay for his habit will take and sell anything he can from his own home (even if it doesnt belong to his family).

Jalili was inspired to make the film when he saw a boy working at a garage who would answer to any name, this was because he had no birth certificate, the film pretty much follows the daily routine of his life.

Due to his addiction, Farhads father has failed to get birth certificates for any of his children and because of this none of them can attend school. Instead Farhad works full time and we see his employment shift from a garage through several other menial tasks, all to help financially support his family. The performances are very natural and due to the circumstances very sad. Slightly reminiscent of Truffauts 400 Blows but with no safety net, children are existing under these conditions but at least the authorities are trying to get them into education rather than letting them rot in this way.

A film with a powerful message and one that shows us how lucky we are.

Difficult but recommended viewing.

Cheers Trev.

BBFC rating 15

Re: Middle Eastern Magic

Postby arsaib4 » Sat Jun 11, 2005 10:41 pm

My Comments on Crimson Gold (a little old now):

Crimson Gold starts off with a heist in play, and before that scene finishes, we are thrust into the back-story showing us what circumstances led to the event. The film deals with Hossein, a pizza delivery man who is slightly "off" as his superior once mentions, meaning that the guy is usually "lost in his own world." Nevertheless, Hossein notices the injustices taken place around him, but for the most part, he keeps to himself. Later on we learn that Hossein was in the army once and is still coping using medication. Hossein is soon joined by his brother-in-law to be as they commit petty crimes around the city.

It's good to see that Crimson Gold doesn't follow the 'one idea per film' routine that has now become the norm with Iranian Cinema, where viewers are forced to watch
repetitiveness in the name of "auteurism," signifying , well, that one particular idea. Crimson Gold is the fourth feature from Jafar Panahi that has been internationally
distributed. His debut feature, The White Balloon won the Camera d'Or winner at Cannes, while his last film, The Circle won the Golden Lion at Venice; the only other feature in between was The Mirror, and unlike others, it wasn't distributed worldwide.

In Crimson Gold, Panahi has once again collaborated with the great Abbas Kiarostami for the screenplay and it's one of the better ones Ive seen this year. Having a pizza delivery man as a protagonist leaves Kiarostami plenty of time and ideas to work with as he goes from one place to another and the writer takes full advantage. "Money is meant to circulate," Hossein says once, and he does too, and this is where Kiarostami unleashes his at once subtle and forceful attack on the bourgeois, and in the big picture the society itself, which is as confused as the authorities above, and usually when that happens, it's the poor who become the target.

The Circle still remains Panahi's most acclaimed film and arguably it is his best directorial effort so far as he deftly handled many character dealing with various situations, and the film's arc like structure emphasized their problems, but the subject matter (the plight of women in Iranian society) has been handled many times before that. Crimson Gold is a rarer 'thriller' if one can call that, and Panahi excels once again. His use of offscreen space in the opening sequence is harrowing as the camera remains focused on the door looking outside at the society while the crime is being committed. This is Panahi's best film in my opinion since The White Balloon, and even though his debut dealt with a dilemma of a child, Panahi used a busy street of Tehran for the setting and the film ended up being a lot tougher than one might have expected after watching the cringe-fests involving children from Majidi. It seems like in Crimson Gold, Panahi has taken his camera and circled half way, onto the other side of the street.

Re: Middle Eastern Magic

Postby trevor826 » Sun Jun 12, 2005 3:20 pm

Cheers arsaib4, this was on my (to do) list, good review btw.

Nun va Goldoon (1996) - A Moment of Innocence

Directed by Mohsen Makhmalbaf

Starring Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Mirhadi Tayebi, Ali Bakhsi, Ammar Tafti

Is it a documentary or is it a mockumentary?

Mohsen Makhmalbaf prepares to make a film recounting a real life incident that changed his life and the lives of the other principals, 20 years before he had stabbed a policeman while trying to take his gun. Makhmalbaf served a five year sentence for the stabbing but it was a moment that stayed in his consciousness.

The film covers the casting for the young Makhmalbaf and Mirhadi Tayebi (the policeman) and the reconstruction of the event including the lead up to it.

So far it seems like a documentary but there are moments that seem too well set up especially concerning the feelings and thoughts of the policeman to have not been pre-planned, storming off the set etc.

Either way it is an exceptionally well thought out and executed film, for those who find Iranian films difficult, I would suggest watching this. A great example of Iranian cinema but also an excellent example of film making.

Highly recommended.

Cheers Trev.

BBFC rating 12

edited by admin
For another review on THIS movie by wpqx ...

Re: Middle Eastern Magic

Postby trevor826 » Sun Jun 12, 2005 8:49 pm

Gaav (1969) The Cow

Directed by Dariush Mehrjui

Starring Ezzatolah Entezami

Mad, cow, disease(d)

Hassan is the owner of the only cow in a remote village, he loves the cow in an almost paternal manner down to playfully sharing the cows feed, even his wife comes second best to the cow.

While away on business, the cow dies unexpectedly. The villagers, knowing how much Hassan cares for the cow tell him it has strayed while in fact they bury the body in an old well.

Thus begins Hassan's descent into madness, not only will he not accept the cow has strayed, he becomes the cow, eating the feed, mooing and living in the cows shed, his wife and the villagers have no idea how to deal with him and the film ends on a tragic note.

Slow paced but commendable story telling, clear black & white imagery, the village is replete with idiot(s), old hags, strange customs and superstitions, it also has a rival village with a deservedly bad reputation for being thieves and rustlers.

The film was banned by the Shah because he didnt want Iran seen as a backward country, the Ayatollah Khomeini was apparently influenced enough by the film to permit film-making in Iran following the Islamic Revolution. The Cow was voted the "best Iranian film ever" twice by Iranian film critics.

Not for everyone but certainly recommended viewing.

Cheers Trev.

BBFC rating PG

Re: Middle Eastern Magic

Postby trevor826 » Tue Jun 14, 2005 12:00 am

Lezate divanegi (2003) - Joy of Madness

Directed by Hana Makhmalbaf

Starring Samira Makhmalbaf, Mohsen Makhmalbaf

A family affair.

Well the last of the Makhmalbaf clan has directed her first film, Hana Makhmalbaf was 14 when she made this feature covering the events upto the filming of At Five in the Afternoon which was directed by her sister Samira.

The whole of the roughly shot film revolves around trying to get the cast together, a job that in almost any part of the world would be pretty straight forward but not in post Taliban Afghanistan. People are still scared, concerned for their safety and in some cases for their reputations, we see Samira lose her patience as she tries to cajole people into accepting parts in the film.

A gypsy family is convinced that the crew will kill their baby while making the film and a teacher writes a letter explaining why she can't take on the lead role. Kabul, once probably a powerful and beautiful city provides the backdrop, scarred and crumbling, a shadow of its past glory. Fear is the feeling that constantly comes across, at least from the Afghani women because even though the Taliban are finished, the threat of them still pervades the very air.

Being a film director is probably a stressful job but trying to do it in these conditions, it must be almost impossible to get anything completed, well done then to the Makhmalbafs and all the other directors working in the Middle East.

Rough & Ready but recommended to anyone interested in Middle Eastern life and cinema.

Cheers Trev

BBFC rated PG


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