Yek Etefagh sadeh "A simple event" (Sohrab Shahid Saless / Iran / 1973)
Two days ago I went to the cinema to see a rare screening of Iranian films that have become classics but are somehow forgotten today. The screening was the beginning of a weekly series, that will show every wendnesday films that have inspired the work of Iranian artist Shirin Neshat, who has an exhibition of some of her work and her newest video here in Berlin until December this year. After reading some info on her, I will probably pay it a visit, but even this new film series would have been good enough for me. The two next screenings will be on a film by Kiarostami and one by Kurosawa, which I'll hopefully be able to catch.
But let's get back to our main issue. The two iranian films were "The House is Black" by the famous iranian poet Forugh Farrrokhzad who was only about 27 years old when she made the film. It's about a leper colony, and what it's like living with this disease, but primarily the film seemed a contemplation about nature's ugliness, which turned to flaming beauty through the insisting eye of Soleiman Minasian's camera, which forced every image directly at the viewer, so that I at times felt like Alex in "Clockwork Orange" - it seemed impossible to look away. The fast paced editing and Farrokhzad's magnificent poems, read by a beautiful female voice (her own?) both contrasted and supported the images of deformed people. It reminded me in many ways of Stan Brakhage's "Window Water Baby Moving", but while the lack of sound in Brakhage's short freed your imagination and your mind from the actual situation and opened up spaces, the use of sound in "The House is Black" achieves a similar effect - another layer that lifts reality into another dimension, so that the truth can be experienced more intense.
But I came too late to the cinema and missed the first 5 to 10 minutes of the film so I can't really state a "complete" opinion on it, as the film has a running time of 22 minutes.
Instead I'll focus on the second film.
"Yek Etefagh sadeh" was, as far as I know, also the first - but luckily not last - attempt of the now legendary Iranian filmmaker Sohrab Shahid Saless to direct a film. The print I saw must have been very old, with lots of scratches and streaks on it, and english subtitles. Maybe it was still the same copy that had been shown at the 1974 Berlin Film Festival, where the film garnered critical acclaim and two awards. At the same time another film by Saless, Tabiate bijan "Still Life", was shown in Competition and won him the silver berlin bear for best director and the FIPRESCI award for the best film.
If you want to know where the current Iranian cinema takes its strength from and what are its traditions, you may look at Kiarostami and Makhmalbaf, two seemingly different poets of the cinema who helped developing Iran's film industry internationally and nationally, but both must have been heavily influenced by Saless' films. After watching "A simple event", Kiarostami's beauty and watchfulness, his awareness of time and space, seem not just inspired, but heavily indebted to this classic (and I'm sure there's even more to discover in earlier Iranian cinema)- a direct line from the past.
The film was made in 1973, and is a glimpse into the life of a small boy and the underprivileged classes in the Iran of those days. The camera follows him on his everyday routines, starting with a walk to the school in the morning and his going to sleep in the night, after he has brought home a canister of water from a nearby well. In between he has to help his father, a fisherman, sell his bait after school, buy bread on his way home, and help his mother who never leaves the house with some tasks while studying for school. These line of events is repeated throughout the whole film until the moment where the title's "simple event" occurs. This simple event is the unexpected death of his mother, which doesn`t seem to affect the son as much as the father, though both remain more or less stoic, not up to the situation fate has chosen for them. But even afterwards things don't seem to change that much although the end may show a glimpse of hope. The father wants to buy a new suit for his son, and this has certainly nothing to do with his son's achievement, who is bad at school, and was even at the verge of being expelled. But the suit is too expensive, the father can only afford two thirds of the lowest price he's being offered, thus angrily striding out of the shop, cursing the owner, his son following on his heels. Together they walk along into an unknown past, but although it may not have anything positive in store for them, they could have established a more personal relationship. The father showed for the first time an attempt to do something for his son, while through the other parts of the film he was mostly accupied with fishing and drinking, so that he could go fishing again the next day. The ending hasn't the same vibe as say, the end of De Sica's "Bycicle Thieves", but that's because of the overall vagueness of the film, which leaves everything kinda hanging in mid-air. Interestingly this stylistic device enables the director to say much more about a situation, as the viewer has to make up his own mind. But the difference to other film using the same device is that in this case it is not because of the complexity of the characters and the multy-layered narrative of the film, but is, quite the opposite, due to its simpleness. There are strokes against a hypocritical and opressive society, and the film has a very critical "second layer", but the events are nevertheless shown as consistent occurencies that have meaning through themselves. The repetition of ever the same course of events doesn't become boring and meaningless through the film, because to show this routine is part of the concept of the film. They were as meaningful as the viewer wanted them to be the first time around, same as the last time. Logically the film thus ends the same way it had begun. What we have seen was a section from the life of a person, and what we have learned therefore varies from viewer to viewer. I dont know which superlatives could describe accurately the simplicity and beauty of this film, without contradicting the films own intentions. One of those films were you get what you put into it, and if you try hard it can be very much.