Episode #10: Iranian Cinephile Culture

Welcome to the 10th episode of the Hello Cinema Podcast. In today’s conversation, we mostly discuss Amir’s trip to Tehran and have a look at the film-going culture, the cinephile community, the state of old and modern cinemas in Tehran and the city’s Museum of Cinema. We also have a look at two films that were recently on screens in Tehran after makings the rounds in European and Asian festivals in 2014: Shahram Mokri’s Fish & Cat (Gorbeh va Maahi) and Nima Javidi’s Melbourne. Both films are significant artistic achievements, the former a unique, formally ambitious horror film shot in a single take, and the latter an intense family drama indebted to the recent works of Asghar Farhadi with two superb performances by the film’s leads, Peiman Maadi and Negar Javaherian.

Furthermore, we discuss the three Iranian films that will be playing at the Berlin Film Festival this February, as well as our upcoming events at TIFF, where the Toronto organization will screen a series of Iranian films. Tina will be introducing Abbas Kiarostami’s Close-up and Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation. Amir will introducing Dariush Mehrjui’s Hamoun. Details for this series can be found here.

Schedule
Introduction 0:00-3:02
Cinemas in Tehran 3:03-11:53
Cinephilia in Iran 11:54-18:18
Tehran’s Museum of Cinema 18:19-23:08
Shahram Mokri’s Fish & Cat 23:09-27:47
Nima Javidi’s Melbourne 27:48-30:35
Cinematheque Screenings in Tehran 30:36-32:14
Old Tehran and Pre-revolutionary Cinemas 32:15-32:25
Iranian Films at Berlinale 32:26-39:10
Closing 39:11-40:54

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

Works Cited
Fish & Cat (Gorbeh va Maahi, Shahram Mokri, 2014)
Melbourne (Nima Javidi, 2014)
Red Carpet (Reza Attaran, 2014)
Music: “Sonatine” by Maziar Heidari

*Correction: Reza Attaran’s Red Carpet was not considered for Academy Award submission.

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Episode #9: Tina Hassannia’s Asghar Farhadi, Life and Cinema

Tina here, and I feel really weird writing this entry since our latest podcast is on, well, ME! And my Critical Press book, Asghar Farhadi: Life and Cinema. Amir is on vacation so I had to helm the blog-writing this month, and it came down to either no podcast or shameless-promotion podcast. And obviously we are going for the latter.

This month we use the book to explore and shed some light on Asghar Farhadi’s filmography, which spans just over a decade and six feature-length films. We discuss what it’s like writing a book-length study on a single filmmaker, the exciting Cinema Guild announcement made a few weeks ago about their releasing About Elly next spring, the importance of writing a retrospective on a mid-career artist, and Farhadi’s other creative output in screenwriting, theatre, and television, which will hopefully one day also get written about. Finally, we go long on our personal favourite Farhadi films. Hope you enjoy our final podcast of the year. Happy New Year everyone, and join us in the new year for some great surprises!

Schedule
Intro 00:00 – 02:30 
How Tina started writing a book for The Critical Press 02:30 – 04:17 
From writing Ancient Persia Young-Adult fiction to… Asghar Farhadi 04:18 – 08:29 
Raising awareness of Farhadi’s earlier work 08:30 – 12:24 
Dancing in the Dust, the Iranian Breaking Bad 12:25 – 15:09 
Is it worthwhile to write a book on a mid-career artist? The answer is yes. 15:10 – 16:31 
How Farhadi has an answer for everything 16:32 – 19:42 
Examples of brilliance in A Separation 19:43 – 23:39 
Farhadi’s other work: TV, theatre, other screenwriting 23:40 – 25:24 
Tina’s auteurist approach in Asghar Farhadi: Life and Cinema 25:25 – 35:11 
Our Farhadi favourites: A Separation and About Elly 35:12 – 47:57 
Outro 47:58 – 49:20 

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

Works cited
Tina’s book Asghar Farhadi: Life and Cinema (available from The Critical Press, Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, TIFF Lightbox Shop)
Her publisher: The Critical Press
Tina’s video essay on morality in Farhadi’s work (Movie Mezzanine)
Book review and author profile (in Farsi: BBC Persian)
Dancing in the Dust (imdb)
About Elly (imdb)
A Separation (imdb)

Music: “Sonatine” by Maziar Heidari
Thumbnail image courtesy of Geoff Allen Stairs

Episode #8, Part 2: Rosewater and Not Without My Daughter with Diana Barboza

Welcome to the second part of Hello Cinema Podcast’s eighth episode. We continue our conversation with Diana Barboza about Jon Stewart’s Rosewater – you can listen to the first part here. We delve further into the film’s simplified politics and Stewart’s personal view of his film as expressed in interviews. We end our discussion with a look back at one of the earlier Hollywood films about Iran, Not Without My Daughter (Brian Gilbert, 1991).

Sally Field in Not Without My Daughter Sally Field in Not Without My Daughter

Gilbert’s film, in which Sally Field stars as Betty Mahmoody, an American woman married to an Iranian man (Alfred Molina) who practically holds her hostage in Tehran, was an opportunistic, propagandist film based on an eponymous book. At the time of its release, the Iranian press rightfully dubbed it an “Anti-Iranian” film, a sentiment that is difficult to argue with more than two decades later. We situate the film in the small but important canon of Hollywood films about Iran.

Schedule
Introduction 0:00-0:24
Family relationships in Rosewater 0:25-5:14
Evading sociopolitical complexity 5:15-15:22
Stewart’s personal view of politics in his film 15:23-19:55
Not Without My Father 19:56-32:04
Closing 32:05-34:07

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

Works cited
Jon Stewart’s Rosewater (imdb)
Maziar Bahari and Aimee Molloy’s Then They Came For Me (link)
Andrew O’Hehir’s interview with Jon Stewart at Salon (link)
Music: “Sonatine” by Maziar Heidari

Episode #8, Part 1: Rosewater with Diana Barboza

Welcome to the eighth episode of the Hello Cinema Podcast. This month’s guest is Diana Barboza, a fellow Torontonian cinephile whose smart views on issues of race and representation in cinema make her the perfect guest for the topic at hand, Jon Stewart’s Rosewater. The popular comedian’s first directorial effort tells the story of Maziar Bahari, an Iranian-Candian journalist imprisoned in Iran after the 2009 presidential elections as adapted from his memoir, Then They Came For Me.

Stewart’s film is problematic on multiple levels, bearing both the marks of a nervous filmmaking debut in its formal approach and a lack of sociopolitical insight into modern day Iran. As a film disappointingly described as “mass market infotainment primarily aimed at North American viewers” by Bahari himself, Rosewater lacks the cultural sensitivity and misses the mark with its inaccurate representation of Iranians. On the other hand, these issues give us plenty to  analyze. Join us as we discuss the casting issues, the adaptation, the political misrepresentations and Stewart’s intentions in making the film. This conversation ran longer than our usual episodes, so we have spread the fun. Tune back in next week for part two of this episode.

Schedule
Introducing…Diana Barboza 0:00-3:11
Introducing…Rosewater 3:12-9:20
An unmemorable, hokey experience 9:21-16:34
Issues of racial representation 16:35-22:46
Rosewater‘s simplified politics 22:47-35:49
Aesthetics of representing Iran 35:50-40:01

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

Works cited
Jon Stewart’s Rosewater (imdb)
Maziar Bahari and Aimee Molloy’s Then They Came For Me (link)
Andrew O’Hehir’s interview with Jon Stewart at Salon (link)
Music: “Sonatine” by Maziar Heidari

Interview: Reza Mirkarimi, Director of Iran’s Oscar Submission, Today

Reza Mirkarimi
Reza Mirkarimi

Reza Mirkarimi’s Today (Emrūz) was one of several Iranian films screened at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival and it happened to be the best of the bunch. We discussed the film at length on our TIFF podcast, and I was fortunate enough to have the chance to speak with its director while he was in Toronto. Mirkarimi is one of the most consistent, creative and essential voices working in Iranian cinema today. His unique brand of filmmaking is delicate and humanist even as it discusses challenging topics like women’s issues or religious doubt. His oeuvre, which includes eight feature films, has rarely received the attention it deserves outside of Iran, something I discuss with him during the interview.

In Today, which is Iran’s submission for this year’s Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards, veteran actor Parviz Parastuyi plays Younes, a quiet and patient taxi driver who picks up a heavily pregnant, possibly injured woman, Sedigheh (Soheila Golestani), only to spend the rest of the day with her at the hospital as her male guardian (a requirement in Iranian hospitals). As he continuously evades the staff’s questions about his identity, his motivations become increasingly intriguing. Whether Younes’s story can be taken at face value, or as an allegory about modern Iranian society has been a matter of debate in all discourse about the film.

I avoided asking questions about Mirkarimi’s interpretation of his own film and instead focused mostly on the trajectory of his career, his experiences with film festivals, the origin of Younes’s character and his collaboration with one of Iran’s biggest superstars in Parastuyi.

A Cube of Sugar
A Cube of Sugar

Amir Soltani: I have a very intimate relationship with one of your films. So Far, So Close (Kheili Door, Kheili Nazdik; 2005) is the last film I ever saw in theatres in Iran. It was also the first time in my life that I went to the theatre alone with my father, not knowing the film was about a very challenging father-son dynamic. It’s one of my most memorable film-going experiences.

Reza Mirkarimi: [Laughs] That’s really great. Or, maybe it’s not? That is a strange father-son relationship, so I’m glad and surprised to hear you remember it so fondly.

AS: I want to ask you about the festival itself because I know you haven’t been to Toronto before. How do you compare the atmosphere to other festivals, especially in Europe?

RM: I’d heard a lot about Toronto. I’d been to North American festivals before both in the US and Montreal. But I realize now that everything people said about Toronto was correct. It’s an important festival particularly because of the audiences. I’ve rarely ever seen line-ups this long elsewhere in the world. It’s incredible that with such a massive schedule of films, all the theatres still sell out. More importantly, the public here has the cinematic intelligence to discuss films. I could tell by the questions I was asked after the screening of my film. Unfortunately, when you attend as a filmmaker, you don’t get to watch a lot of films but the experience has been amazing. The Pusan festival in Korea has tried to replicate a similar atmosphere on the Asian festival circuit with a very vast schedule, but the theatres don’t fill up as much. This level of attendance and cinematic understanding is really unique in the world.

AS: I’ve spoken to a lot of non-Iranians about your film since its first screening and both critics and the public have responded very well to it. As a filmmaker whose films have a very strong Iranian identity, what do you think it is that attracts others to Iranian cinema?

RM: I used to think that my stories wouldn’t become popular outside of Iran because they are full of Iranian signifiers. I thought there was an inverse ratio between their foreign success and their Iranian identity. but the reality is different. I think the most “Iranian” film I’ve ever made is A Cube of Sugar. There are certain ethnic, regional codes that even Iranians might not understand, but I took that film around the world and it was astonishing the way people related to it. The entirety of a film is what needs to be understood, the spirit of it, not every single detail. You might even miss a line of dialogue or not discover a detail, but if the structure of the film is appealing and the themes can be felt, if it speaks of basic human relationships and needs, these will be understood all around the world. That’s been my experience. For a film like A Cube of Sugar which is very dialogue-heavy, the reception of the non-Iranian audience was unbelievable for me. I was shocked that people who didn’t understand the customs and traditions that gave birth to the film were discussing it at length. Today has been similar. This was its first international screening but the reactions during the screening, in the Q&A and the comments and reviews I’ve received since have all indicated a strong audience connection to the film.

AS: What was the origin and inspiration for Today’s story?

RM: I like heroes who don’t share their secrets with others a lot, even in other filmmaker’s films, like some of Mifune’s role in Kurosawa’s films, the type of person who didn’t share his every thought with others but was a man of action. I’ve done this in my own film previously. The protagonist of A Cube of Sugar hides her emotions and makes the audience doubt her intentions which is the basis for the dramatic tension of the film. Today takes the concept of that type of protagonist to the extreme. In some of my previous films, the heroic act of the hero is simply doubt. In Today, Parastuyi’s character has not doubts. He’s lived a long life and seen ups and downs and knows exactly what he wants, but he’s anonymous and is intent on keeping himself that way. He’s taciturn, and in today’s Iranian society where image is very important and everyone wants to be seen, this is unique. This man loves anonymity. Society’s perception and acceptance is unimportant to him. That is something rare in Iran these days. I also thought he should be a taxi driver, because that would make him more accessible. He’s not special in any way. He’s a hero anyone can become.

Soheila Golestani in Today
Soheila Golestani in Today

AS: You answered some of my other questions already! I wanted to ask you about the extremity of this character’s reticence, because that seems to be a recurring theme in many of your films. But in a way, he’s also the exact opposite of those characters. For example, in As Simple As That or A Cube of Sugar, others make decisions for a central figure who seems not just quiet, but also unable to be assertive.

RM: Those characters have an internal challenge. The story of those films is the struggle they have with themselves, but in Today, Younes doesn’t have any problems within himself. He’s an introvert only insofar as he doesn’t share his problems with those around him. Unlike the films you mentioned, here the protagonist’s problem is external, it’s in his interactions with the rest of the community.

AS: He’s a powerful character too, despite his silence.

RM: Yes, he’s active and reactive. He does everything without talking about it, which I find very rare in our society today, where everything is trumpeted.

AS: Is there a real life basis for Younes?

RM: Not exactly. I can’t give you an exact address.

AS: I get the sense that some of these protagonists are close to yourself in their personality and calmness. Or is it that you’re attracted to them because they’re completely different?

RM: Interesting. I guess all my protagonists have something of me in them but Younes is who I aspire to be. I think I and a lot of people in my generation have had similar experiences to his, but the main impetus for writing this character isn’t so much inspiration from another character but from an idea; the idea that I’m tired of today’s whiny cultural discourse. I want to see people do things instead of talking about it.

AS: I want to ask you a question about the first scene of the film. What was the evolutionary process of that scene? Did the story always start there or was it added after the fact? It appears as though it’s separate from the rest of the film, but the more I think about it, the more I realize how crucial it is in shaping our opinion of Younes. It immediately stops us from thinking of him as a saintly figure.

RM: It was in the screenplay but we didn’t film it. When we screened the film at the Fajr Film Festival, it wasn’t there. I later decided that a prologue like that is necessary to explain the character better, so I reverted back to my original decision and filmed that scene from the script after the fact.

AS: Can you tell me a bit about your process? There’s always a nice balance between the incredibly structured nature of your films and a sense of fluidity that makes me curious to know your working method. Do you like to go straight by the script?

RM: In my last three films, I was very specific about the script. These are ironically the films that look the most improvised. I think it’s a skill that I’m still working to fully learn: to try to predict everything in the script, but in execution perform it so that it looks fluid and natural without disrupting the structure. I want the films to appear as though they’re improvised and unplanned, like reality is. Structure is needed for a film, but it needs to be hidden, so that the director’s presence isn’t always felt. The audience shouldn’t feel the filmmaker is imposing himself on the film. Finding that balance is a bit difficult. As I said, my last three films feel a lot more fluid than the previous ones but their writing process was a lot more rigorous. I only made the smallest differences on set. Despite what you might think, much of So Far, So Close was shaped during production on set.

AS: It’s unbelievable to think that the first hour of A Cube of Sugar, with all its regional-flavoured slapstick comedy was meticulously written before hand.

RM: Every line of dialogue for that part was written as you see it! I mean, a screenplay is always being re-written during production in the sense that actors and crew add their interpretation to what I have imagined on paper. The particular inflection of a line might change the feel of the script, but nothing was added or removed.

Parviz Parastuyi in Today
Parviz Parastuyi in Today

AS: As a filmmaker, how much freedom do you give to your actors for reinterpretation?

RM: I give that freedom to everyone not just the actors. My first pact with everyone is that I demand as many suggestions from them as possible. I always say, “if I reject your first 999 suggestions, don’t stop! Your 1000th one might be the best.” One special idea from someone on set might elevate the film. Filmmaking is a group effort. This can be very dangerous, but if you don’t know what you’re doing. If you’re confident in the structure of your work, you can integrate suggestions that are from the same fabric as your film and make things work. Actors are included in this too. For example, in Today, Ms. Moghadami changed a lot of mise-en-scène simply because of the confident, strong way she walks. The settings we’d worked on included a lot of her bending down to help patients in the hospital, which were removed during filming because of her interpretation of the character.

AS: I feel like that type of flexibility is a trademark feature of your work. There is a strong coherence across your films that identifies them as the works of the same director, but they’re not rigid.

RM: I make a conscious effort not to repeat my experiences. I like challenging myself with new models and forms, but I also allow the story to dictate my approach. Maintaining a general approach to form is not mutually exclusive with showing flexibility to the magnitude of the story or its themes. Understanding this fact and keeping this balance is what allows the storyteller to remain invisible. Even if a film is heavily plotted or stylized, it won’t look artificial. In other words, I don’t engineer the film so much as the story engineers its form. I like to give breathing room to the story and understand it and make the film only as big as that. In the case of Today, when Younes, who is quiet and observant, clashes with a society that is quick to make judgments and announce them loudly, I overlap my gaze with that of the main character. Consequently, I don’t ask many questions. I only observe, as he does. If anything happens in the narrative that Younes is slow to react to, I react to it slowly as well. If a pan of the camera is necessitated by Younes’s direction of looking, the camera delivers a very slow pan. Stylistic decisions are dictated by the story so they don’t stand out more than they should. I really believe the storyteller shouldn’t talk to the audience more than necessary, which in cinematic terms means synchronizing style with narrative.

AS: I like that simplicity you talk about in Today’s stylistic choices. I think all of your films can be called As Simple As That, actually. Can you tell me about working with Parviz Parastuyi? You’ve worked with big stars before, but he’s different.

RM: I always wanted to work with him. Most of his performances have been very outspoken and energetic and I wanted to show a different side of him. I specifically wanted to focus on his eyes because I think he has a very deep gaze that tells stories on its own. We spoke about this before hand and he wanted the texture of his gaze to tell the story of his character. The way he looks at everyone around him makes the audience think he’s not in the same space as everyone else, then he proves his alertness in other ways. It was a good experience for both of us. We learnt to fill the void of dialogue with his eyes.

AS: There’s a pivotal scene in the film, where the most important line of dialogue is spoken by him to Sedigheh. (“I’ve always wanted to be behind this door.”) It almost justifies his behaviour over the entire film. The delivery is very subtle. It’s not treated as a one-liner. How did you create the mood?

RM: That sentence had multiple layers of meaning for me. One is to put the pregnant woman at ease, to make her feel comfortable. He assures her that he isn’t only there because of her. He is removing the burden off her. His choices don’t cost others anything and that line emphasizes the selflessness of his character to a large extent. That’s why I wanted him to say that in a nonchalant way.

AS: In many of your films, there is a religious character that allows you to look at the role of clergy in Iran in a way that other directors haven’t really done. Are you interested in reintroducing those themes in your films in the future?

RM: Yes, but Younes is the embodiment of everything I know about religion. His character is a crystallization of the virtues of religion. It eliminated the need for any explicit discussion about religion.

AS: It’s almost as if, from Under the Moonlight to Today, you’ve become increasingly subtle about the way you study religion, until it has fully become your interpretation of spirituality.

Episode #7: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

Welcome to the seventh episode of the Hello Cinema Podcast. In this month’s edition, we discuss the soon to be released, black and white, vampire Western A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. Directed by Ana Lily Amirpour, who was nominated for a Gotham Award for Best Breakthrough Director last week for this film, Girl is an impressive debut feature with a blend of influences ranging from 50s and 60s westerns to the comic-book aesthetic of Marjane Satrapi.

Sheila Vand in A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Sheila Vand in A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

Amirpour joins a growing group of women of Iranian descent who are currently making films in Diaspora, such as the aforementioned Satrapi, Shirin Neshat, Desiree Akhavan and Mitra Farahani. She has set her film in an imagined city in Iran, “Bad City,” in an imagined time, where the vengeful but curiously likeable vampire, played by Sheila Vand, haunts the streets at night looking ominous in her black chador, preying on corrupt victims and searching for personal gain and vigilante justice. Transcending this premise, Amipour offers an interesting take on Iranian culture by using the small population of this bleak, deserted city as a microcosm of the “Iranian” society. On the show, we analyze the aesthetic and thematic preoccupations of the film and the fascinating result of Amirpour’s many influences.

Schedule
Introducing… Ana Lily Amirpour 0:00-4:53
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night: Synopsis 4:53-13:02
Aesthetics and politics 13:02-17:20
The residents of “Bad City” 17:20-25:45
House parties and horror films in Iranian cinema 25:45-33:56
Closing 33:56-34:33

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

Works cited
Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014) (imdb)
Music: “Sonatine” by Maziar Heidari

A Celebrity Cat Fight

Ebrahim Hatamikia, possibly complaining about Abbas Kiarostami
Ebrahim Hatamikia, possibly complaining about Abbas Kiarostami

The general view among Iranians is that their cinema operates not as a systematic enterprise but as a dysfunctional family, an undisciplined, primitive and, to borrow a term from Hamid Naficy, artisanal industry. Never has this been felt more strongly than in the past couple of weeks, where news has spread of a feud between two of the most respected figures in the national film industry, spurring consequent hokey, jingoistic and comical reactions.

The chain of events started in April 2014, when Abbas Kiarostami implicitly criticized Ebrahim Hatamikia without mentioning his name at a filmmaking workshop at Syracuse University. Hatamikia is renowned for his war films, but his more recent works haven’t been as financially or critically successful as his films in the 1990s. His most recent outing, CH, was released around the same time as Kiarostami’s lecture, during which the latter allegedly stated:

“The Iranian audiences have grown weary of war films after so many years, but certain filmmakers still receive large loans from the government to produce these films that don’t sell. One of these filmmakers recently scolded me, saying that ‘while they were fighting the war, Kiarostami was finding his friend’s notebook.’ Actually, Where Is the Friend’s Home? is one of my most popular films. People saw it all over the world and it’s still resonant because it speaks of deep human values. Whereas you have made films that speak about a specific period, a period in Iranian history that is rousing and exciting to impressionable young people, like those who went off to get killed in a meaningless war.”

The war to which he refers is the eight-year conflict between Iran and Iraq, to which the Iranians refer as “The Holy Defense.” Not taking kindly to Kiarostami’s assertions, Hatamikia waited until September and the closing night of a national festival titled “The Festival of Resistance Cinema” to share his grievances on stage while accepting an award for CH. Under fire from progressives who viewed CH with skepticism and accused it of being partial and historically revisionist, Hatamikia did not hold back in his public criticism of Kiarostami, accusing him of the grave – and severely punishable – offenses of insulting the values of The Holy Defense and the martyrs of war. He further claimed that Kiarostami enjoys unfair advantage and protection from authorities and belongs to a movement that is oblivious to the importance of the war. Hatamikia briefly thanked Kiarostami for “raising Iran’s flag at foreign festivals” but nevertheless pleaded directly to the Iranian president, the minister of culture, the head of Iranian Cinema Organization and the head of the Farabi Film Institute to “come forward with their views on the matter.”

This isn’t the first time Hatamikia has made controversial, disparaging remarks about other filmmakers. He was recently in the news criticizing “progressive filmmakers” and picking fights with Asghar Farhadi and Rakhshan Bani-Etemad, so much so that another filmmaker, Kiumars Poorahamd, pleaded to him to stop.

The authorities’ response to Hatamikia’s petulance was measured and thoughtful. Hojattollah Ayoubi, the head of the Cinema Organization, called the release of Kiarostami’s original statements six months after the fact and right in the middle of the “Holy Defense Week” – a week dedicated to celebrating the heroics of soldiers, when reactions to any anti-war sentiments are understandably glorified – a “questionable act” and requested a full transcript of Kiarostami’s lecture to “view the statements in context.” Leaping to Kiarostami’s defense a few days later, Ayoubi went as far as proclaiming that “Kiarostami wholeheartedly loves the Holy Defense!” The Minister of Culture, while remarking that “no one is allowed to bring the war under question,” defended Kiarostami by mentioning that “the war doesn’t only belong to certain individuals.” In the meantime, previous cabinet ministers who were accused of unfairly protecting Kiarostami from censorship came back to the limelight after several years to absolve themselves of that allegation of favouritism.

With accusations, rumors and paws full flung in the air, Kiarostami finally appeared in an interview where he defended his statements in trademark nebulous fashion, stating that “he is categorically opposed to wars, but only finds the Holy Defense meaningless because thousands of Iranian youngsters were killed in a conflict imposed on Iran by Iraq.” He further mentioned that he has “nothing but utmost respect for martyrs and war veterans.” But if you thought that put an end to all the hokey whatabouteries and kicking and screaming, mind this final (or so we think) twist. The head of the Office for Bureaucratic Justice, Hojjatoleslam Montazeri, accused Kiarostami of being a “Westernized alcoholic” whose words about the war he would feel immense shame to even repeat. The reason for this (over)reaction becomes evident when you read Mr. Montazeri’s full speech, where he derides Kiarostami for referring to the war as “a period in Iranian history,” seemingly misunderstanding the director’s words and mistaking them as an equation of the bloodshed of the holy war to menstruation! The period in Iranian history, you see? Did I mention that the Iranian film industry is undisciplined and primitive?

References
“Hatamikia: Authorities need to comment on Kiarostami’s remarks.”
“Former culture and foreign ministers deny giving Kiarostami special attention.”
“Kiarostami: I do not defend any wars

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Episode #6: Iranian Films at the 2014 Toronto Film Festival

Welcome to the sixth episode of the Hello Cinema Podcast. In this month’s edition, Tina and Amir review all the films with an Iranian connection that played at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. Perhaps more than ever before, Toronto’s lineup was generous to fans of Iranian cinema this September, not just showcasing two films produced in the country but also bringing films made in the Diaspora about Iran, by Iranian directors elsewhere in the world, and even one Hollywood film about Iran.

Parviz Parastuyi in Reza Mirkarimi's Today, Iran's submission for the 2014 Academy Awards
Parviz Parastuyi in Reza Mirkarimi’s Today, Iran’s submission for the 2014 Academy Awards

We focus mostly on two films: Iran’s submission for this year’s Academy Award for best foreign-language film, Reza Mirkarimi’s Today (Emrūz), and the winner of the Best Screenplay award at this year’s Venice Film Festival, Rakhshan Bani-Etemad’s Tales (Ghesse-ha). We also discuss Mardan, the first film by Bahman Ghobadi’s brother, Batin, which is filmed in Kurdish; 99 Homes, directed by Ramin Bahrani who co-wrote the film with legendary Iranian filmmaker Amir Naderi; and Red Rose, Sepideh Farsi’s confrontational look at the events of 2009’s Green Movement. We also briefly discuss Today’s Oscar chances, Jon Stewart’s Rosewater and our favourite films from TIFF 2014.

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Schedule
Introduction 0:00-1:35
Iran’s Oscar submission 1:35-5:00
Reza Mirkarimi 5:00-10:23
Today 10:24-25:02
Tales 25:03-36-41
Red Rose 36:42-45:48
Mardan 45:49-48:00
99 Homes 48:01-57:48
Final thoughts 57:49-59:53
TIFF Favourites 59:54-1:01:25
Closing 1:01:26-1:02-:02

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

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Works Cited
Reza Mirkarimi’s Today (Emrūz, 2014) (imdb)
Rakhshan Bani-Etemad’s Tales (Ghesse-ha, 2014) (imdb)
Ramin Bahrani’s 99 Homes (2014) (imdb)
Batin Ghobadi’s Mardan (2014) (imdb)
Sepideh Farsi’s Red Rose (2014) (imdb)
Music: “Sonatine” by Maziar Heidari

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Episode #5: Closed Curtain and the Evolution of Jafar Panahi’s Career

Welcome to the fifth episode of the Hello Cinema podcast, where we are joined by special guest Nick Davis. Nick is an Associate Professor of English and Gender and Sexuality Studies at Northwestern University, has been writing as a film critic for over a decade and recently authored The Desiring Image: Gilles Deleuze and Contemporary Queer Cinema. The main topic of our conversation for this episode is Jafar Panahi’s latest film Closed Curtain (Pardeh, 2013, co-directed by Kambuzia Partovi), but Nick’s enthusiasm for Iranian cinema and his familiarity with Panahi’s career led our conversation in interesting directions.

Kambuzia Partovi in Jafar Panahi's Closed Curtain
Kambuzia Partovi in Jafar Panahi’s Closed Curtain

We discuss the trajectory of Panahi’s career from his early days as an assistant director to Abbas Kiarostami to his recent productions under house arrest. We also delve into the reception of Closed Curtain and consider the film as a companion piece to both This Is Not A Film and his breakthrough features. Contextualizing Panahi’s self-reflexivity is a central part of our discussion in this episode due to the prevalence of meta-cinema in Iranian film. And finally, on an unrelated note, we lightly touch on the Toronto International Film Festival, a mere week away, to announce the Iranian films playing there.

Schedule

Introduction 0:00-1:47
Iranian films at TIFF 2014 1:48-4:05
An introduction to Jafar Panahi’s cinema 4:06-16:11
Closed Curtain: An Enigma 16:12-29:36
Iranian Films Breaking the Fourth Wall 29:37-33:12
Separating Closed Curtain from Its Maker 33:13-37:31
Closed Curtain in Relation to Panahi’s Oeuvre 37:32-43:45
World’s Cutest Dog and Toughest Iguana 43:36-48:55
Panahi’s Definitive Film 48:56-1:04:14
Final Thoughts 1:04:15-1:07:30
Closing 1:07:31-1:09:27

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

Works Cited
Films by Jafar Panahi
The White Balloon (imdb, amazon, youtube – no English subtitles)
The Mirror (imdb, amazon)
The Circle (imdb, amazon)
Crimson Gold (imdb, amazon)
Offside (imdb, amazon, instant watch)
This Is Not A Film (imdb, amazon)
Closed Curtain (imdb)
Tina Hassannia’s review of Closed Curtain for Slant (link)
Nick Davis’s The Desiring Image (amazon)
Music: “Sonatine” by Maziar Heidari

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.

Schedule
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)