Tag Archives: Iran


19 Mar


A game of universal humanity

By TOM MEEK  |  April 25, 2007

IT’S ANYBODY’S GAME: But Jafar Panahi’s pro-feminist drama actually scores.

As it did the director’s pro-feminist 2000 neo-realist drama The Circle, the Iranian government has banned Jafar Panahi’s latest contemplation of the oppression of women in Iran. Offside takes a lighter tack as it challenges the law barring women from public sporting events. Six disparate females — ranging from shy and mousy to acerbic and tomboyish — dress up as boys (one audaciously as a soldier) and get caught as they try to sneak into Iran’s World Cup 2006 qualifier against Bahrain. They’re relegated to a makeshift holding pen atop Tehran’s Azadi Stadium, able to hear the roar of the crowd with cutting clarity but just a few tantalizing feet from seeing the game (which Iran won, 1-0). Instead they engage in a debate with the young soldiers guarding them; the men aren’t happy about enforcing the law, but they fear reprisal if they show any leniency. Amid the back and forth of the game, Panahi taps into universal humanity and delivers a liberating twist in the contest’s aftermath.

Color of Paradise

16 Mar

Color of Paradise (reviewed 1999 in The Boston Phoenix)

Majid Majidi’s portrait of a torn Iranian family is riveting both in scope and emotional texture. At the center of Majidi’s universe is Mohammad (the arresting Mohsen Ramezani), an eight-year-old blind boy who spends the school year at an institute in Tehran and then journeys to the highlands to be with his family for the summer hiatus. As the film opens, Mohammad’s father (Hossein Mahjub, the film’s only professional actor) is late to pick up his son and when he finally does arrive; he is reticent to take possession. At home in the hills, where life unfolds in small simple strokes, Mohammad is warmly welcomed by his grandmother and sisters, but his father, a widower, remains disdainful.   He perceives the boy’s handicap as an obstacle to his proposed marriage with a woman from a strict Islamic family and tries to place Mohammad outside the homestead. The self-interested action causes a divide and triggers a chain of tragically fateful events.

Majidi, who impressed American audiences with “Children of Heaven,” makes a visually stunning film, and yet communicates the lack of sight with sensual brilliance: be it Mohammad pawing through a pile of leaves to save a hatchling or a gentle touch applied to his sister’s face to measure her growth. Like Mohammad’s ever-reaching fingers, and the soul they bear, “Color of Paradise” is poetically subtle and offers great rewards.

The Ban in Iran

16 Mar

An Interview with filmmaker Jafar Panahi in a May 2001 Boston Phoenix – linked here for as long as the Phoenix’s archives (RIP Phx!) remain online, text below.

The ban in IranFilmmakers around the world confront the same issues that Hollywood has to contend with: lack of money, lack of talent, production snags. In many countries, however, cinematic artists face an even bigger hurdle: governments that exercise regulatory control over film content. To Live, Zhang Yimou’s 1994 epic chronicle about China in social-political transition, was banned in his homeland — though it’s been seen by Western audiences. Now with The Circle, an indictment of Iran’s oppression of women, filmmaker Jafar Panahi has suffered a similar fate. The film won the Golden Lion at last year’s Venice Film Festival but has yet to be shown publicly on Iranian soil.

I would very much like to have people in my country see the film; it makes me sad, ” says the director. Panahi made The Circle in response to his two earlier films, The Mirror andThe White Balloon, both of which were about young female protagonists. ” I wanted to see what they would be like as adults. Would they be as bold? There would be more restrictions on them and they would be less innocent. They would be aware and have knowledge of the controls around them — the circle of restriction that they are caught in and cannot escape. That’s what I wanted to explore, and the idea came together after I read about a woman who committed suicide after killing her two children and I began to contemplate the reasons why, because the paper made no such notation about a motive. ”

To make the film, Panahi had to find his own funding. ” There are two types of films in Iran, propaganda films, like films about the Iran-Iraq war that are financed by the government, and private films that are made on bank loans. These either are made for commercial profit or are arthouse films about human interest like mine. I made The Circle with money I had made from my first two films, and I got help co-producing it with the Italian company that had picked up my other films. “

Throughout the process Panahi had to get government approval at regular checkpoints. ” When I first wrote the film and submitted it for review, I did not hear back for a long time, many months. And then they let me make the film, and when I was done, I gave them a print, and again I did not hear from them. ” At that juncture Panahi became fearful that no audience, national or international, would see his film, but then a fortunate sequence of events occurred. ” We have this festival called Fajr, which is a big deal in my country and many people come to it, and when I couldn’t show it there, I took some of my friends, associates, and fans from other countries to my house and showed it to them. One of them, from the Venice Film Festival, where it took top honors, said they had to show it, and the government, believing that a copy of the film had made it out of the country, allowed it to be shown [in Venice] with only three days to go, but it is still not permitted to be shown in my country. “

Given his penchant for such provocative subjects, does Panahi see himself as a political filmmaker or a feminist? ” My films are humanistic, though many have said they are political and I can understand that, but I am an artist trying to shed light, to enlighten, to jolt the mind, I am not political, I am not going to change the world, I am just showing things. As for being a feminist, my films are about daily struggle, not just about women, but for all people, they could be about men, too. “

Last month, however, on April 15, Panahi was detained by police during a layover at New York’s JFK airport. Although details of the incident remain unclear, he maintains that he was humiliated, denied requests for an interpreter, and then, many hours later, led back onto a plane in shackles. In an open letter, the director returned the (American) Freedom of Expression Award and challenged the awarding board and the ” US media ” to ” dare to condemn the savage acts of American Police/Immigration Officers. ” Like his films, the letter appears to be just another intrepid act of a nonpolitical person.

By Tom Meek