Cultural Tourism DC Calendar
Before the 1979 revolution, Iran was home to a thriving popular film industry packed with violence and melodrama, and populated with sexy starlets and macho action stars. Most of these films are now lost, but for a few surviving underground VHS tapes. Taking as its starting point the 1978 arson attack the Cinema Rex movie theater in Abadan, which killed over 400 people, Ehsan Khoshbakht’s exhaustively-researched documentary reconstructs this lively era of Iranian cinema history – one which few outside of Iran were aware of until now. (Dir.: Ehsan Khoshbakht, Iran/United Kingdom, 2019, 84 min., DCP, English and Persian with English subtitles)
This dark comic fable takes place in a rugged mountain village where, for forty-five years, no one has died, but not for lack of trying. Crotchety old men, some over a century old, spend their days smoking, bickering, soaking in the bathhouse, and trying to figure out how to commit suicide without being stopped by the detachment of exasperated soldiers in charge of keeping them alive. First-time director Reza Jamali takes full advantage of the film’s picturesque setting and cast of charmingly grumpy old coots. (Dir.: Reza Jamali, Iran, 2019, 85 min., DCP, Persian with English subtitles)
In person: Mitra Tabrizian, director
Mitra Tabrizian, whose photographs are included in the exhibition My Iran: Six Women Photographers, discusses Gholam, her “striking feature debut” (Mark Kermode, The Guardian). Set in London’s Iranian exile community during the 2011 Arab Spring, it features a mesmerizing performance by Shahab Hosseini (the star of Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman) as a taxi driver with a mysterious past. He is drawn into Iran’s political turmoil, no matter how hard he tries to resist. (Dir.: Mitra Tabrizian, United Kingdom, 2018, 94 min., English and Persian with English subtitles)
Preceded by The Insider, a poetic contemplation on Albert Camus’ The Outsider with text by Booker Prize-winning author Ben Okri. (Dir.: Mitra Tabrizian, United Kingdom, 2018, 6 min., Blu Ray, English)
A Separation star Payman Maadi plays a detective determined to nab a notorious drug kingpin in a caper that dominated Iran’s box office and won the audience award at the Fajr Film Festival in Tehran. It’s easy to see why: from its fast-paced opening scenes, in which addicts are rounded up for arrest, to its devastating finale, Just 6.5 is a nonstop thrill ride with a sincere social message at its heart. “More than a thrilling watch. It is a sobering reflection on the inability of the law to stem the tide of drug addiction through round-ups, arrests and executions” (Deborah Young, The Hollywood Reporter). (Dir.: Saeed Roustayi, Iran, 2019, 135 min., DCP, Persian with English subtitles)
In this poetic and atmospheric horror fable, set in a village in war-torn medieval Japan, a malevolent spirit has been ripping out the throats of itinerant samurai. When a military hero is sent to dispatch the unseen force, he finds that he must struggle with his own personal demons as well. From Kaneto Shindo, director of the terror classic Onibaba, Kuroneko (Black Cat) is a spectacularly eerie twilight tale with a shocking feminist angle, evoked through ghostly special effects and exquisite cinematography. (Dir.: Kaneto Shindo, Japan, 1968, 99 min., 35mm, Japanese with English subtitles)
In person: Godfrey Cheshire, author of Conversations with Kiarostami
In Kiarostami’s second documentary feature about education, the filmmaker himself asks the questions, interviewing a succession of invariably cute first- and second-graders about their home situations and the schoolwork they must do there. It emerges that numerous parents are illiterate. Tellingly, many kids can define punishment (the corporal variety seems common) but not encouragement. (Dir.: Abbas Kiarostami, Iran, 1989, 86 min., DCP, Persian with English subtitles)
In person: Godfrey Cheshire, author of Conversations with Kiarostami
This fiction-documentary hybrid uses a sensational real-life event—the arrest of a young man on charges that he fraudulently impersonated the well-known filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf—as the basis for a stunning, multilayered investigation into movies, identity, artistic creation, and existence, in which the real people from the case play themselves. With its universal themes and fascinating narrative knots, Close-up—one of Kiarostami’s most radical, brilliant works—has resonated with viewers around the world. (Dir.: Abbas Kiarostami, Iran, 1990, 98 min., DCP, Persian with English subtitles)
One of Kiarostami’s most daring formal experiments turns the camera on the audience. Set entirely in a movie theater showing an adaptation of a twelfth-century poem by Nezami Ganjavi—never actually glimpsed but heard throughout—Shirin surveys in a succession of close-ups the reactions of those raptly watching the tragic love story, an audience made up of more than 110 actresses, including Juliette Binoche (who would later star in Kiarostami’s 2010 film Certified Copy). The result is a masterful study of spectatorship and the affective power of cinema. (Dir.: Abbas Kiarostami, Iran, 2008, 92 min., DCP, Persian with English subtitles)
As she roams the streets of Tehran in her car, a recently divorced woman (Mania Akbari) chauffeurs a rotating cast of passengers, from her combative young son to a heartbroken wife abandoned by her husband to a defiant young sex worker going about her job. Fully embracing the minimalist freedoms of digital filmmaking by shooting entirely on two cameras fixed to the vehicle’s dashboard, Kiarostami crafts a miracle of slice-of-life docufiction that probes the experiences of women in contemporary Iran. Capturing revealing moments of everyday human interaction, Ten uses its simple premise as a vehicle for a remarkably rich, perceptive look at the tension between the strictures of a patriarchal society and the universal need for personal freedom. (Dir.: Abbas Kiarostami, Iran, 2002, 94 min., DCP, Persian with English subtitles)
For what would prove to be his final film, Kiarostami gave himself a challenge: to create a dialogue between his work as a filmmaker and his work as a photographer, bridging the two art forms to which he had dedicated his life. Setting out to reconstruct the moments immediately before and after a photograph is taken, Kiarostami selected twenty-four still images—most of them stark landscapes inhabited only by foraging birds and other wildlife—and digitally animated each one into its own subtly evolving four-and-a-half-minute vignette, creating a series of poignant studies in movement, perception, and time. A sustained meditation on the process of image making, 24 Frames is a graceful and elegiac farewell from one of the giants of world cinema. (Dir.: Abbas Kiarostami, Iran, 2017, 114 min., DCP, Persian with English subtitles)
Abbas Kiarostami spent his incomparable career exploring the spaces that separate illusion from reality and the simulated from the authentic. At first, his extraordinary and sly Like Someone in Love, which finds the Iranian director in Tokyo, may appear to be among his most straightforward films. Yet with this simple story of the growing bond between a young student and part-time call girl and a grandfatherly client, Kiarostami has constructed an enigmatic but crystalline investigation of affection and desire as complex as his masterful Close-up and Certified Copy in its engagement with the workings of the mercurial human heart. Description by the Criterion Collection. (Dir.: Abbas Kiarostami, Japan/France, 2012, 109 min., DCP, Japanese with English subtitles)
Sergei Parajanov’s masterpiece is a dreamlike kinetic pictograph based on the life and writings of the eighteenth-century Armenian poet and troubadour Sayat Nova. Mingling tableaux, ritual, metaphor, music, and poetry, the film attempts to recount the poet’s inner life while following his story from childhood through death, incorporating a tradition of Armenian miniature painting in the telling. The powerful imagery and expressive music aroused controversy when the film was first released in the USSR. (Dir.: Sergei Parajanov, Soviet Union, 1969, 75 min., DCP, Russian with English subtitles)
Preceding the feature is the American premiere of Kiev Frescoes (1966, 13 minutes). This restored short film by Parajanov is composed of outtakes from an uncompleted film project. Special thanks go to PostClassical Ensemble and the Embassy of Armenia.
Commentary by Armenian Ambassador Varuzhan Nersesyan, Levon Abrahamian, Daniel Bird, and Kevork Mourad
Followed by Hakob Hovantanyan and Arabesques on the Pirosmani Theme
Four Acts for Syria is “an animated film created with my film partner, Waref Abu Quba, who left Syria when the war started. Many of my ideas were inspired by my grandparents’ and parents’ stories, who told of living in a time in which Jews, Muslims, and Christians lived together in Syria–in Qameshli, in Aleppo, and in Damascus. This film, created through the Robert Bosch Stiftung prize, is an homage to the country that was home to three generations of my family—refugees of the Armenian genocide—and to the culture that has most inspired my art and aesthetic . . . with a soundtrack by Kinan Azmeh and Zulal, the Armenian a cappella trio, and a poem written and recited by Raed Wahesh”—Kevork Mourad. (Dir.: Kevork Mourad, Syria, 2019, 14 min., DCP, Arabic with English subtitles)
Following Four Acts for Syria is the American premiere of two restored shorts by Sergei Parajanov: Hakob Hovantanyan (1967, 10 min.), on the nineteenth-century portrait painter Hovnatanyan, known as the “Raphael of Tiflis,” and Arabesques on the Pirosmani Theme (1985, 21 min.), on Georgian outsider artist Niko Pirosmani.
Special thanks go to PostClassical Ensemble and the Embassy of Armenia.
Commentary by Kevork Mourad, Daniel Bird, and Joseph Horowitz