I read this post on the TakePart blog about Iranian films. (I would say the first list is much better than the second list, but I’m responding to the second.) I’ve had this discussion with multiple parties regarding film and cultural relevance. Foreign films that make it into Sundance or Cannes or any major cinema usually address political and social issues from within the country of origin. For example, Persepolis is based on a graphic novel released in the States and eventually became a feature film. While I haven’t seen it – and I’m sure it’s a great film – it isn’t the only thing Iranians have to talk about. I’ve always been hyper-aware of these issues (aka the “guilty liberal” complex), and I feel this is a great space for me to vent my concerns.
Take the film Taste of Cherry. It’s a beautiful film by Abbas Kiarostami about a man who believes his life isn’t worth living, and the people he meets the day before he decides to kill himself. And while this film’s underlying message may be about the oppressive Iranian government, it is, above all, about human connections and our love of life. Yes, you may argue that this is what most films are about (human connections, love, commonalities, pain…), Taste of Cherry seems to be the reverse of the films Goldstein lists: Kiarostami puts these commonalities above political messages.
Another example is The House is Black, which is regarded as one of the greatest Iranian films, if not the greatest influence on Iranian New Wave. Forough Farrokhzad, a well-known Iranian poet, produced a black-and-white short film about a leper colony in Iran. There are two great things about this film: 1) the only narration is her recitation of poems; and 2) all the footage is from less than two weeks in the colony (I don’t remember the exact time frame, but it was definitely filmed in under a month). This film is about the universal issue of leprosy and how we, as an international community, treat lepers. Yes, there are definitely underlying religious and political comments, but the main messages of the film are about the miraculous decay and beauty that is human life.
And if you get the chance, hit up the Iranian Film Festival. It looks like there will be some incredible films playing, and I’m disappointed it won’t be in New York. In fact, you should take every chance you can to watch foreign films that aren’t critically acclaimed by Ebert and Roeper or Sundance. If you really want to know what people have to say from oppressive countries or whatever, look at their comedies and dramas that don’t have clear political messages. Usually they’re the most effective as saying what needs to be said.