FIPRESCI Critsics' Perspective on Iranian Independent Cinema (Part- Ten)

Stephen Aspeling
Film Critic/South Africa

How much do you know about Iranian culture? Do you know any Iranian artists out of the field of cinema?
- I am from South Africa, that is, the country where television started operating in 1976 with extensive censorship and a history of national and international discrimination. Due to this reason and some other obstacles, my access to Iranian history, culture, and art was extremely limited. I literally know Iran via its films.

How did you become acquainted with Iranian Cinema? And when was the first time you watched an Iranian film?
- My first encounter with Iranian cinema was watching the movie The Song of the Sparrows directed by Majid Majidi, which was screened in our chain of art cinemas under the title Cinema Noveau. As someone who had no background in Iranian culture or cinema prior to that, I found this to be an intimate introduction to a country that, beyond a documentary, gave a sense of its visual and intimate aspects. Watching this film made me change my point of view toward countries such as Iran, and pay more attention to our similarities and universal subject matters.

What do you think are the most important subject matters that Iranian independent filmmakers should work on?
- Based on films I’ve watched from Asghar Farhadi and Majid Majidi, I’ve realized that Iranian independent cinema puts people in a specific situation in their daily lives and manifests a form of humanity in it. As a witness and an audience, I can experience a reflection of life, love, and relationships with these movies. I am completely mesmerized by the details of these dramas. Farhadi is the master of dramatic suspension, and he immerses the audience in the subtleties of human relationships along with psychological complexities. Despite their simple appearance, his films are lyrical and poetic.
Finally, relying on my limited knowledge of Iranian cinema, I can say that the most important subject that Iranian cinema presents is a humanistic thread based on the connection of all human beings to each other despite their differences.

What are the main factors for the success of Iranian cinema at a variety of film festivals in the world?
- Iranian cinema is completely straightforward. Iranian dramas are honest and elegant, and freshly authentic, open and frank. Iranian dramas are based on characters’ decisions, and ignorant of a tendency towards good or evil. Choosing the most universal and immortal themes for the films, Iranian cinema has aimed for humanity at its core and tries to manifest this concept in a delicate and effective way. Despite Iranian cinema's geographical location, its exclusive culture which may not be familiar to some foreign audiences, and the reactions of viewers who may feel threatened by the emotional connection and the immersion in pure drama, Iranian cinema has always been amazing and surprising.
Iranian filmmakers are extremely talented in leading audiences to a sympathetic situation in which reality, spirituality, and poetry are interwoven. Watching defeated people trying for a better life is inspiring and humbling enough to let the audience face its own failures. Iranian cinema is the best in this regard in my opinion.

What is your opinion regarding the status of women in Iranian cinema?
- During the past decades, women’s status in Iranian cinema has been unstable. The Iranian cinema seems to reflect gender politics in a conservative manner. Based on their knowledge of all the existing natural and sexual complexities, the Iranian filmmakers try to respect both ideas and parties, trying to avoid any kind of conflict. So far, mostly men have been chosen as the main characters, and women have mostly taken the supporting roles. We can only hope to witness more and bigger equalities in the coming years, so much that it can be considered as a reflection of massive changes in the film industry, to which Iran is no exception.

What do you think is the future for independent filmmakers in Iran?
- I believe, to date, Iranian cinema has been dominated by dramas that depict intimate situations between characters. It may be due to the fact that, just like South Africa, there is not enough budget and investment for culture, art, and diversities in genre in Iranian cinema. Therefore, this cinema will remain the same until this system goes through some major changes. Although there is a desire to see more diverse productions based on different genres in Iranian cinema, as long as the management remains cautious and conservative, this expectation will only be slowly realized.

[FIlm Magazine NO. 605]

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