Monday, February 21, 2011

International: Iranian Cinema

Iranian cinema has been a particularly vibrant national cinema over the past few decades, and recent headlines have brought it back to international attention.  Jafar Pahani was a juror in absentia at the Berlin Film Festival this month, and the jury kept an empty chair for him to protest his treatment in Iran. You can read Panahi's open letter to the festival here.  An Iranian film, Asghar Farhadi’s Nader and Simin, a Separation, also ended up winning the Golden Bear this year.  These headlines inspired me to take a quick look at which Iranian films are currently available for streaming at Netflix and Mubi.

Shirin (Abbas Kiarostami, Iran, 2008, 98 minutes)
Netflix: Renowned Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami turns the tables on his film audience as he allows us to watch while moviegoers take in a touching performance of Khosrow and Shirin, a legendary 12th-century Persian love poem. Though the performance isn't visible, the reactions on the faces of more than 100 famous Iranian theater and cinema actresses and a French star reveal the deep emotions of the famous piece.  Netflix link.

Kiarostami was one of the key filmmakers to breakthrough to the international film festival circuit in the 1990s, and his filmmaking career pre-dates the Islamic Revolution of 1979.  For a good survey of his career, go here.  I liked his most recent film Certfied Copy, much more than other people seemed to like it; for me it was a return to 1960s-style European art cinema with strong performances by Juliette Binoche and William Shimmell.  Certified Copy reflects some of the consequences of Kiarostami's move towards international co-productions; it was filmed in Italy with English and French stars.  Certified Copy was also a move away from the extremes of his minimalist experiments like Ten and Shirin.  Unlike Certified Copy, Shirin is very relevant to the current context in Iran, perhaps a response to those who have unfairly charged Kiarostami of not being politically engaged through his work.  I'm looking forward to watching this, and I will follow up with more comments in the near future.


Iran: A Cinematographic Revolution (Nader T. Homayoun, Iran, 2008, 98 minutes)
Netflix: Despite political turmoil and cultural isolation -- and sometimes even because of them -- Iran has served as fertile ground for filmmakers for more than seven decades, as witnessed by this tribute to Persian cinema from Nader Takmil Homayoun. From escapism to social realism, the new wave of the 1970s and the more poetic films of recent years, this homage traces the history of Iranian filmmaking through a fascinating array of clips and interviews.  Netflix link.

I would recommend taking the plunge and surveying some Iranian films before watching this, as it might not make the best initial introduction to the work (as with any topic, it is hard to capture the essence of films with clips).  But once you are interested in the topic and want to know more, this is a good resource.

Netflix: This charming movie from Iran directed by Dariush Mehrjui won the hearts of moviegoers at the 1971 Venice Film Festival, where it was screened amid secrecy and controversy. It tells the not-so-simple story of Hassan (Ezzatolah Entezami), a farmer who forms an unexplainable bond with his cow. But when his pet dies, his dedication morphs into delusional sadness, and he begins to feel that he'd become his bovine's best friend.  Netflix link.

This is often cited as an important pre-cursor to the realist films that emerged in Iran in the 1980s, and it's influence is discussed in the documentary listed above.  Watch Instantly also has Mehrjui's Hamoun (1990) and Leila (2000).


The Mirror (Jafar Panahi, Iran, 1997, 95 minutes)
Mubi: A young girl leaves school and discovers that her mother is not outside waiting. She boards what looks like the correct bus, but eventually realizes that she has gone the wrong way. A friendly driver begins to help the now irritable child. Suddenly she stops and announces “I don’t want to play this part anymore.” The story surprisingly becomes about making a film. The actress continues to be filmed without her knowledge. From the director of the award-winning The White Balloon and The CircleMubi link.

Another great Pahani film is Offside, about young women trying to sneak into a soccer game despite restrictions against attending such public events with men.

Netflix: In her directorial debut, filmmaker Marzieh Meshkini offers an unsettling vision of what it means to be female in her native Iran. Tracing the stories of three characters -- a 9-year-old girl on the brink of maturity; a young wife who defies her husband; and an elderly woman seeking material comfort -- this tightly crafted, award-winning film is a powerful, poetic exploration of the struggle to maintain dignity in the face of second-class status.  Netflix link.
Update: No longer streaming on Netflix.

Moshen Makhmalbaf is missing from this list, but one film from the "House of Makhmalbaf" available for streaming is this film by his wife.

Netflix: What do you do when you can't play music in your homeland, but you can't leave your country to play it abroad either? This is the dilemma faced by an Iranian guy and gal who, fresh on the heels of their prison release, decide to form a rock band. Despite having drive and ambition to spare, the wannabe rockers are stymied by lack of passports, lack of funds and lack of musicians who're willing to leave Iran in this drama from Bahman Ghobadi.  Netflix Streaming available 3/15/2011

Fun, energetic film that gives you a good sense of the sensibilities of contemporary Iranian urban youth.  Watch Instantly also has Ghobadi's Turtles Can Fly (2005).

I look forward to reading responses in the comments section.--JLK


  1. Oh wow, I'm glad you started this blog, Dr. Kreul! A solid portion of my films-watched are streaming, & it's nice to have a blog shepherding that format forward. I've had Shirin on my netflix queue for a while now, I should really sit down to watch.

  2. Thanks Hannah,

    Be sure to follow up with your thoughts on Shirin when you get a chance.

  3. Dude, let me add some titles:
    Baran (Majid Majidi)
    Deserted Station (Alireza Raisian)
    The Suitors (Ghasem Ebrahimian) [not to be confused with Hatami's 1972 film The Suitor]
    A Time For Drunken Horses (Ghobadi)
    All on Netflix

    I don't do Mubi, but Hulu Plus has, as far as I can find, two (!) Iranian films: Taste of Cherry and Close Up, both by Kiarostami. Those cats (Hulu)need to get on the ball.
    In the meantime the fools at Netflix have been deleting Iranian titles like crazy: Besides The Day I Became A Woman (which you noted), they dropped Kiarostami's Ten, Mani Haghighi's Men At Work (which, by the way, is hilarious, even more so if you know some Persian), Cyrus Nowrasteh's The Stoning of Soraya M., and Daybreak by Hamid Rahmanian. They have also dropped Shirin, so you should amend that bit. And, dude--keep up the good work.

    1. Thanks for the updates. The IVFF was dormant for 19 months, so I appreciate that you took the time to comment. New posts started up again October 1.

      In order to focus on new posts, I'll only occasionally go back to update old posts (films are added and removed so quickly it would be impossible to keep up). But in most cases the Netflix links will still get you to the DVD page after a film has been removed from streaming.

  4. Last night I discovered Hulu Plus has "The White Meadows."
    Good on them.