Episode #4: Translucent Realism in Shahid Saless’s Still Life (with Corey Atad)

Welcome to the fourth episode of the Hello Cinema podcast, where we are joined by Corey Atad, film critic and columnist at Pajiba. More than a year ago, a conversation between Corey and Amir about Sohrab Shahid Saless’s Still Life (Tabiat-e Bi Jaan, 1974) sparked the idea for this podcast series, so it was natural to invite Corey on the show to talk about this unheralded gem. Saless only made two feature-length films in IranStill Life and A Simple Event (Yek Ettefagh-e Saadeh, 1973)before going to Germany, where he made several films for German television. However, the influence of his two first features on Iranian cinema, particularly for Abbas Kiarostami and Mohsen Makhmalbaf, is monumental.

Still Life tells the story of an elderly couple living in rural Iran around 1960. Their extremely modest existence is tested when the husband receives a letter notifying him of his immediate retirement. At once a masterwork of serene realism reminiscent of the works of Paul Cézanne and Yasujiro Ozu, and heavily influenced by the poetry of Sohrab Sepehri, Still Life is widely regarded as one of the best Iranian films of all time, but remains curiously little seen. Fortunately for our viewers, it’s actually available on YouTube with English subtitles. Additionally, with the news that a 35mm copy of the film has been touring film festivals around the world for the past year, we thought it was as a good as any to shine a light on Saless’s masterpiece, its connections to Iranian modernist poetry, its unique brand of realism and humor, and the sociopolitical picture it paints of village life in Iran before the Islamic revolution.

Opening 0-0:40
Introduction 0:40-3:27
Sohrab Shahid Saless 3:27-11:15
A Simple Event 11:16- 13:50
Still Life: Existentialism and Humour 13:51-24:25
Temporal and Spatial Absurdity 24:25-31:36
Sohrab Sepehri’s Poetry and Translucent Reality 31:36-39:50
An Old Man in a New World 39:51-42:43
Threading a Needle 42:44-46:00
Closing 46:01-52:26

You can download an .mp3 version of this episode here, or subscribe to our show on iTunes.

Works Cited
Hamid Dabashi’s Masters and Masterpieces of Iranian Cinema (amazon)
Review by Tina (Spectrum Culture)
Music: “Sonatine” by Maziar Heidari
Films by Sohrab Shahid Saless:
Still Life (Tabiat-e Bi Jaan, 1974) (imdb, youtube– with English subtitles)
A Simple Event (Yek Ettefagh-e Saadeh, 1973) (imdb)


Iranian Films at the 2014 Venice Film Festival

The number of Iranian films at major European film festivals has been on steady decline since the heyday of the 1990s and early 2000s, but this year has proven to be a delightfully surprising change of pace. After Cannes and Sundance, where several Iranian films have gained traction on the critical radar, this year’s edition of the Venice Film Festival, which runs between August 27th to September 6th, boasts a high number of Iranian participants as well.

Rakhshan Bani-Etemad (standing, centre) with the cast of Tales
Rakhshan Bani-Etemad (standing, centre) with the cast of Tales

In the main competition section, veteran director Rakhshan Bani-Etemad will screen her latest film, Tales (Ghesse-ha, 2014). Comprised of several different stories that interconnect, Bani-Etemad revisits characters from her previous films to follow up on their fates after the end of their respective films. Surprisingly, the Venice berth will not be the film’s world premiere, as Iran’s Fajr Film Festival has already screened it to the public, where it received an audience award. Bani-Etemad has previously won awards at European festivals like Karlovy Vary and Locarno. Her most famous films include The Blue-Veiled (Rusari Abi, 1995) and Under the Skin of the City (Zir-e Poost-e Shahr, 2001). Her latest has been dubbed “the most special Iranian film of all time” by esteemed critic, Ahmad Talebinejad.

Competing with Bani-Etemad for the Golden Lion is Ramin Bahrani, the American director of Iranian origin whose films include Man Push Cart (2005) and Goodbye Solo (2008). His first foray into working with professional actors, At Any Price (2013), wasn’t as warmly received as his earlier work, but he’s stayed on the same path anyway. In 99 Homes, starring Andrew Garfield, Michael Shannon and Laura Dern, Bahrani tells the story of familial and financial struggle for a father who’s family is being evicted.

The Horizons section of the festival will host the latest from the renowned filmmaker behind Hello Cinema (Salaam Cinema, 1995) and A Moment of Innocence (Nun va Goldun, 1996), Mohsen Makhmalbaf. The President, his first English language feature film, is set in a fictitious Caucasian country, were a deposed ruler comes face to face with the people of his country when he and his grandson are forced to disguise themselves as street musicians. This is Makhmalbaf’s first fiction film in five years and as usual, his family members all occupy roles behind the camera.

Finally, director Nima Javidi’s debut feature, Melbourne, will be playing in the Critics’ Week section. The film tells the story of a young couple whose plans to immigrate from Iran to Melbourne, Australia are thwarted when a family tragedy hits them hours before their flight. Melbourne stars Peiman Moaadi and Negar Javaherian and has already garnered much critical acclaim in Iran.

Close-up: Closed Curtain and City of Mice

Kambozia Partovi in Closed Curtain
Kambozia Partovi in Closed Curtain

Here at Hello Cinema, we are big fans of Jafar Panahi’s Closed Curtain, a film we will be discussing extensively in the future. With the release of the film in the United States this week, quite a few major outlets reviewed the film. Surprisingly, Godfrey Cheshire–a previous guest on our podcast and a major advocate of Iranian cinema–found the film problematic. Writing about Panahi for RogerEbert.com, he noted:

He still works in order to stay engaged with life and cinema, and this film’s graceful framing, lighting and camera movement testify to his skills as a stylist, yet the movie also raises the question of how many more films he can make about himself and his frustration before hitting a creative wall.

At The New York Times, A.O. Scott is a bigger fan of the film, finding in the film something more touching than its political context:

For the viewer, this conundrum is both troubling and amusing. On one level, the film … is a mischievous, Pirandellian entertainment. It is also an allegory, dark but not despairing, of the creative spirit under political pressure, and of the ways the imagination can be both a refuge and a place of confinement.

BBC Persian has a report on the Karlovy Vary Film Festival that just wrapped up in Czech Republic. Three films with Iranian connections played at the festival: Mania Akbari and Mark Cousins’ Life May Be, Sudabeh Mortezaei’s Macondo (Variety review) and Abdolreza Kahani’s We’ve Got Time. Kahani has previously won prizes at the festival with Twent.y . BBC’s report is in Farsi.

Finally, Entekhab reports that City of Mice 2, a sequel to Marzieh Boroomand’s beloved classic will finally be released this summer, 29 years after the original film. The director is bringing back the characters from her famous TV series, later adapted for the screen, in a film that has become one of the most expensive ever produced through private funding in Iran. Anticipation for the film is at a peak, given the popularity of the diminutive characters for all generations of Iranians. The as-of-yet unconfirmed release date is expected to be in mid-August. Entekhab’s report is in Farsi.