5 Iranian gems you shouldn't miss!, Jafar Panahi, No one knows about Persian cats


While we fret over even remote religious / caste based references, metaphorical or literal, in mainstream, commercial movies with huge hue and cry, some parts of the world are not blessed with even the basic provisions we have to churn out movies at the pace we do.  On the other hand, where movie making is an ordeal in itself, suppression of artistic expression produces some of the best movies in world cinema. Stories of movies (in a pen drive) being snuck out of the country in a cake to be shown in an international film festival are not too uncommon in Iran. Contemporary Iranian movies fetch awards consistently at international film festivals. If you are still being initiated to world movies, consider these five movies that will absolutely leave your heart broken and stirred.

This is not a film – Jafar Panahi
Credited with numerous awards and international recognitions, Jafar Panahi is the face of the Iranian new age films. Most of his films are often banned in his own country and ‘This is not a film’, is a telling account of his brush with the strict Islamic regime and its stringent laws on movie making in the country. Shot in amateur style, the film is shot by Panahi and his friend as Panahi ruminates over his movie making plans (for his next movie) as he is facing a 20 year ban. He discusses his to-be-made movie with his friend who agrees to film the conversation, chats up with the trash collector, refuses his neighbor’s plea to sit his dog – and the result is a very affecting, unsettling product about an acclaimed director who is staring at inevitable imprisonment.

No one knows about Persian cats – Bahman Ghobadi
The 2009 Bahman Ghobadi directed Iranian film startles you with its content. As much as there is culture policing, the movie shows that Iran has an underground rock scene that is thriving in its barnyards maddening the cattle, tiny one-room terrace flats and bachelor dens. Winner of the special jury prize at the 2009 Cannes, Ghobadi’s film is available for free download on the internet. The download also has a clip in which Ghobadi explains why he decided to seed it for free on the web – to give a glimpse of Iran’s suppressed talent.

Persopolis – Marjan Satrapi
This is a French film as much as it is an Iranian film. Based on French – Iranian writer Marjan Satrapi’s graphic novel (and her life), Persopolis is a coming of age movie with well-fleshed out characters (especially that of the intrepid grandmother), struggling under a repressive regime and its double standards against gender and basic freedom, denied even of their basic rights like enjoying a drink. The beautiful animations, clever dialogues and an excellent subtitling make Persopolis a satisfying movie watching experience.

Turtles can fly
By the end of Ghobadi’s Turtles can fly, you are either too depressed or thankful for your life. Set in a refugee camp, somewhere along the Iraq border the movie follows a world populated by smart children who are trying to eke out a living by collecting and selling unexploded mines. There is the street smart Satellite, the heartbreakingly beautiful Agrin with her child from a gang rape she was a victim of and her arm-less brother Hengov and the blind toddler Riga. Agrin cannot face Riga because the child reminds her of a horrifying past but Hengov couldn’t bring himself to abandon him. Satellite, meanwhile, is falling for Agrin.

My Tehran for sale - Granaz Moussavi
Known for her poetry, short films and documentaries, Granaz rose into prominence in the international film festival arena with her My Tehran for sale. My Tehran for sale swept many awards but its global recognition came at a price for its actor more than anyone. As the movie became available illegally in Iran, Marzieh Vafamehr, who played the lead in the film, was awarded with 90 lashes and a year’s imprisonment as sentence for appearing in the movie. Based on reports available on the internet, she faces an indefinite ban to appear in any movie. The movie follows the life of a small time actor and her failed attempt to immigrate to Australia after a medical examination reveals that she is infected with a life threatening illness.

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