If you’re not John Bolton, stop reading. This isn’t for you. Though if you could pass this on to John Bolton for me, that’d be great. Cheers.
John, how are ya mate? I hear you’re trying to kick off another illegal imperial quagmire in the middle east again. Tut-tut John, you already have two wars on the side, you’re a greedy little bugger trying to kick off a third, who do you think you are, Burt Reynolds?
Check your mustache and your privilege mate.
Anyway, do you like movies?
Clearly you see anyone hailing from anywhere east of east Connecticut as ‘Other’ and dehumanize them thusly, but have you considered the power of cinema when it comes to empathy and communicating the universal loves and losses of man?
You really should! Did you realise too that Iranians make movies? They do! So maybe take a moment to examine the culture of the people you despise. It’s much harder to spruik for the wholesale destruction of a people when you keep them as 2D abstracts.
[REMINDER! If you are not Jon Bolton then PLEASE stop reading this!]
Anyway, I know you’re a busy man (war crimes, invasion etc), and I know you don’t follow me on Letterboxd so I thought I’d whip up this brief redaction-free guide to the wondrous world of Iranian cinema. You’re welcome.
The House is Black (1962)
The blurring of fact and fiction—docu-fiction—is a recurring motif throughout the history of Iranian film. That’s should get your attention! Where were those darn WMDs anyway? Anyway, The House is Black is a documentary short examining life in the Bababaghi Hospice leper colony directed by Iranian poet Forough Farrokhzad. It is interspersed with her narration of quotes from her poetry, the Old Testament, and the Koran (calm down John!). It’s more or less the stepping off point for modern Iranian cinema, at least according to Western critics (Westerners!) and at only 21 minutes, you should have time to watch it between meeting arms lobbyists at The Jefferson.
The Cow (1969)
Dariush Mehrjui’s The Cow is a humanistic exploration of the line between property, personhood, and status. Villager Mash Hassan (Ezzatollah Entezami) has his cow and only his cow. While he’s away from his village, his cow is (spoilers) found dead by his fellow villagers, who, fearing his response, tell Hassan that the cow ran off while he was away. He goes mad, and slowly begins to take on his cow’s mannerisms. The film teaches us that what may be perceived as a small loss by some (a cow, your house, your family etc) may actually be an immense loss that cripples you with grief destroys your sense of self. Worth thinking about maybe!
The Runner (1984)
Amira Naderi’s The Runner sits at the core of Iran’s post-revolution cinema. Shot during the Iran-Iraq War (remember that one! You Yanks backed Saddam! Heady days!) the film typifies the use of allegory in Iranian cinema: our dedicated child athlete becomes a cypher for the existential drive for survival and personhood in a state that is constantly being thrown into upheaval by forces beyond the individual’s control or understanding. Or you can just think of it as a sports movie! The Karate Kid was released the same year! Think of it as Iran’s The Karate Kid, if that helps!
Taste of Cherry (1996)
Abbas Kirostami, John, looms as the titan of the Iranian new-wave. I had great difficulty selecting just one of his films for you to watch. The Koker trilogy is a must, and maybe in the way it gently reinforces the need to invest in the inner lives of oneself and your loved ones, you could begin to grow something resembling a soul. Close Up is really a deconstruction of the way aspirational economic rationalism strips us of our morality while others strip us of our self-worth (remember Reaganomics, John?). But ultimately, I settled on Taste of Cherry because it is both a contemplation of anhedonia and a kindly rejection of nihilism.
As the central character drives around asking the needy and desperate to bury him after his suicide for sizeable fee, maybe you can ponder whether death and profit can ever intersect without the erosion of the soul!
An animated film based on Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel of the same name, Persepolis is both a feminist memoir and a history lesson. If you want to understand the intersection of Western pop-culture in pre-revolutionary Iran with the strict religious rigidity of post-revolutionary Iran, then Persepolis is a good jumping off point! Satrapi presents a Tehran rich in history, culture, personality, and trauma —maybe worth examining before you attempt to inflict some yourself!
Closed Curtain (2013)
I’ll end where we began: with docu-fiction, of which director Jafar Panahi (who was Kirostami’s assistant director) is surely the master. This is not a Film, which explore Panahi’s house arrest, and was smuggled into Cannes on a thumb drive in a cake, may be better known, but I think you need to see Closed Curtain more urgently. Plus, it has a dog in it! But I think the way the film asks what is our responsibility to the worlds and lives—fictive or not—that we shape and create will be helpful to you as you angle to carve up another sovereign country for your mates at Halliburton.
Anyway, John, old mate, I think you should start getting into Iranian cinema. I didn’t even go into A Separation or No One Knows About Persian Cats. But I believe in the power in cinema in the same way you believe in droning civilians (not in a sense that I think cinema can blow people to chunks, but rather that I’m fond of it.) I think if you watch these films, if you tuck Donny in and take some time for yourself, and you look at Majid Nioumand pumping his little legs towards life and meaning in The Runner, you may just second guess yourself when you lobby to kill boys like him for freedom and your country club chums from Chevron.
Peace be unto you,
Patrick Marlborough is a writer and comedian based in Fremantle, Western Australia. He tries to turn his manic hyper-focus into publishable guff so he can buy vintage Pokémon caps. See his work at www.patrickmarlborough.com