The Eloquent Carpet

The Eloquent Tree

The Eloquent Carpet by Bahram Beyzai is the third episode of Persian Carpet (2008) exploring the motif of Waq Waq Tree (Wakwak Tree) in Persian carpet through Shahnameh.

The movie begins with a quotation from the filmmaker

A Rare, woven painting, Hanged and used as a mat long before. It originates from an amazing tree, Shah-Nameh has called it the “Speaking-Tree”. Its archaic name is Vaque (or rather Vagh). It’s the ancient Goddess of Speech!

Bahram Beyzai

The Eloquent Carpet begins with a face of Khorshid Khanoum (Female Sun is popular motif in Persian art depicting a round face woman with an arch-like unibrow over languished eyes). Next, camera shows a series of still shots of different illustrations of heroic figures and battles in Shahnameh on a large carpet.

In the following sequence, while the camera is tilting down on a Persian Miniature of Eskandar (Alexander the Great) contemplates the Talking Tree, a female voice (Mozhdeh Shamsai) narrates the same story from Shahnameh. In this part (Sekandar Sees the Speaking Tree), Ferdowsi writes the story of Alexander and his encounter with the strange speaking tree,

“Victorious king, there is a marvel here, a tree that has two separate trunks together, one of which is female and the other male, and these splendid tree limbs can speak. At night the female trunk becomes sweet smelling and speaks, and when the daylight comes, the male speaks.”

Ferdowsi (Shahnameh: The Epic of the Kings)

As the narrative goes on, we see various Persian carpets with “speaking tree” elements in panning, titling and close-ups.  

Wak Wak Tree
Persian Miniature – Timurid: Shiraz, c.1430

In the next scene, the camera shows a woman, wearing a nomadic colorful dress, from behind weaving carpet on a medium size vertical carpet loom while we hear a series of indistinguishable words, like whispering prayers. What comes next are the series of common animal images on Persian carpet accompanied with their natural sound. The animals are animated in the process of creation. Although we see them in still fixed close-ups, they are alive.  Once again we hear the female narrator reciting Persian verses prophesying the death of Sekandar (Alexander). As she speaks, we hear thunderbolts accompanied by rotation of fully-made carpets.  

Do not puff yourself up with greed; why torment your soul in this way? … You have seen many things that no man ever saw, but now it’s time to draw rein…Death will come soon: you’ll die. In a strange land, with strangers standing by. The stars and crown and throne and worldly glory, are sated with Sekandar and his story.

Ferdowsi (Shahnameh: The Epic of the Kings)
The Eloquent Tree 2007

The eloquent tree episode ends with series of tilting up on Persian carpets. Last but not least, the Persian miniature of Eskandar (Alexander the Great) contemplates the Talking Tree is shown as the final shot.  

Beyzai Perspective

The Eloquent Carpet or Speaking Carpet by Bahram Beyzai, as always, takes a historical mythological perspective. One of the recurrent and crucial element in world mythology is a “Tree”. We all heard about the story of Adam and Eve and the Tree of knowledge from holy books. As a mythologist, however, Beyzai dips into ancient strange eloquent tree way before emergence of Islam in the Middle East. A unisex speaking tree with the power of prophesy, an oracle in figure of a tree . One that warns Alexander, the Great, and he proudly paid no heed. Accordingly, Alexander story finds a way into Persian Literature. Take Nizami’s Eskandar-Nameh or The Romance of Alexander the Great as a shining example. And the eloquent tree appears as one of the important features of Persian Carpet. So, Bahram Beyzai once more explores and shows the roots of Persian art in Persian history and mythology, despite Islamization of Iran.

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The 3D Carpet

The-3D-Carpet

The 3D Carpet by Rakhshan Banietemad is the second episode of Persian Carpet (2008) seeking the mastermind behind the 3D carpet based on Shah Mosque portal. The movie begins with a quotation from the filmmaker

Carpet, Art, Iran, Carpet is the art of Iranians.

Rakhshan Banietemad

A Grandiose Claim

On an answering machine a man suggests the director, Rakhshan Banietemad, to make her short film about an unprecedented 3D carpet designed by Mr. Ahmadi. The filmmaker invites him to an interview in Tehran to know ins and outs of this masterpiece. This seventeen-year-old boy claims that he has come up with the 3D carpet pattern based on the entrance of Shah Mosque, in Naqsh-e Jahan Square, Isfahan. Showing the different pictures of completed carpet on laptop, Mr. Ahmadi is explaining the invention of carpet loom, pattern and procedure of its completion.

The 3D Carpet Film
Mr. Ahamdi explaining the 3D Carpet to Rakhshan Banietemad

In order to verify his claim, Banietemad asks Mr. Heshmati, a carpet expert, to question him more about the carpet. Initially, he is surprised to see the pictures because he knows nearly all carpet weavers and dealers in Isfahan, but he has never heard about this 3D carpet. In a dialogue, she seeks the reason behind his quest,

Banietemad: Why did you decide to make this carpet, since you have never done any carpet designing before?

Mr. Ahmadi: (Smoking) I have rarely designed a carpet, but it doesn’t mean that I don’t know it.  I am an ambitious person.    

A New Claim from Isfahan

Mr. Ahmadi invites her to Isfahan to see the carpet with her own eyes. The voice over narrator, the director herself, informs us that she receives another phone call from Isfahan which changes the plan. The female voice says

Mrs. Banietemad, there seems to be a problem regarding your short film project. The real designer his carpet is my father, Mr. Akbar Zarrinnaghse who live in Isfahan.

A female voice on answering machine
Persian Carpet 2008
Mr. Zarrinnaqshe in Isfahan

As the camera shows the view of si-o-se-pol Bridge in Isfahan, the filmmaker tells us that she couldn’t find the name of Mr. Ahamadi in any of her research. Next, at Mr. Zarrinnaqshe painting institute, Banietemad asks him how he designs the carpet. He replies,

This pattern, my knowledge about this kind of painting, particularly Shah mosque portal and its interior, could have outlined with computer. But, I did it according on its old style in Safavid Time, imaging then once the portal of Shah Mosque is completed, they have asked for the exact carpet plan. I can’t say anything about the carpet, because I haven’t seen it complete yet.

Mr. Zarrinnaqshe

The Mastermind Behind the 3D Carpet

The narrator continues that he doesn’t know Mr. Ahamdi either and the mastermind behind this carpet is only Mr. Omrani, not anyone else. To see him, they drive to Dehno village in Isfahan. At his house, she asks the reason behind this carpet weaving from him which he answers,

The honest answer is that I don’t know. Do you know why? We have a wisdom, an imagination, and a memory. The imagination fools the wisdom. While the wisdom says it is impossible, the imagination says go ahead, who says it is possible.

Mr. Omrani
Portal Shah Mosque
Portal Shah Mosque, Isfahan

In addition to his husband comment, Mrs. Omrani says, “It takes four years to weave this carpet with the help of 14 weavers including me. We weaved the bottom blue tiles three times, each takes nearly five hours to do. But, he shows up saying it doesn’t match exactly with the real blue tiles of the mosque”. Banietemad asks Mr. Omrani to watch Mr. Ahmadi’s claim on a video cassette. He tells that he has heard the voice of man, but never seen him. At first, he is surprised, but he bursts into tears as to see him claiming the invention of this 3D carpet. Mr. Omrani has told about this carpet to several people in Carpet exhibitions eagerly.

The 3D Carpet movie
Mr. Omrani and His wife

In order to prove his claim, he brings out the 3D carpet out of the basement to show it an open space to the film crew. Mr. Omrani set a meeting with Mr. Ahmadi, but he never shows up, in addition to turn off his mobile phone.

I wish there would be a place where art students, architects, sculptures, university professors just visit this carpet. Show it in western countries, Europeans and America. The carpet belongs to Iran.

Mr. Omrani’s Wish
Shah Mosque 3D Carpet
Portal Shah Mosque 3D Carpet

Mr. Ahmadi’s absent leaves his grandiose claim vague and ambiguous for the director. She convinces herself that the creation of this 3D carpet was the dream of that smart boy. The 3D carpet of Shah Mosque reruns to basement in hope of a show exhibition or a buyer. For the last time, she tries to contact Mr. Ahmadi , but his phone is off.

Rakhshan Banietemad Perspective

In the second episode of Persian Carpet (2008), Rakhshan Banietemad sets off on a quest to discover the genius behind the Shah Mosque 3D Carpet. In fact, she is putting forward the idea of plagiarism in hand-made carpet industry in Iran. Her journey allows us to see the fake carpet weaver and the genuine one. The humble originator has showed his creative art in several places. In place of gaining admiration, he remains unknown in his home, whereas the imitators and plagiarizers brazenly brag about their craftsmanship and ingenuity. The Shah Mosque 3D Carpet has been kept in the owner’s basement for nearly two years and at the end of the film returns to basement again. The mystery of creator is solved; however, the carpet, a masterpiece to be looked at, goes back to shadows in hope of true admirer or carpet collector.    

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Nomads Carpet

Nomads Carpet

Nomads Carpet by Behrouz Afkhami is the first episode of Persian Carpet (2008) depicting Qashqai Nomads Carpet, Gabbeh in Iran. The movie begins with a quotation from the filmmaker,

Persian Carpet, a world of nuances, full of imagination…repeating trees, streams and blossoms…A utopia taken from Iranian spirit

Behrouz Afkhami

Nomads Carpet episode begins with the group dancing of Qashqai Nomad in Zagros Mountains where women in multi-color hand-made dresses moving up and down colorful handkerchief.

Qashqai Nomad Dance
Qashqai Nomad Dance

With the soft bell’s tinkle, a female voice-over narrator (Marjan Shirmohammadi) begins telling the story of Nomads Carpet known as Gabbeh by introducing the biggest nomads carpet producer and exporter in Iran: Gholamreza Zollanvari. A self-made businessman who has been working in Iran carpet for nearly 60 years. The narrator tells us in brief how his tough journey to Kamfiruz, in Shiraz, in his childhood serves as a starting point for his long, successful rewarding career. The camera shows him getting out of SUV car and his greeting with the locals. While he was offering a cup of tea sitting in the black nomadic tent, the narrator recounts his life-changing tale,

He was sent to bring two pieces of Persian rugs in freezing winter of Kamfiruz by order of his father. But, the bitter snow of engulfed him for almost a week.

Gholamreza Zollanvari

Gholamreza Zollanvari is one of the richest businessman in Iran carpet industry. He is famous for introducing and distributing Gabbeh to the world. Starting with small business, he has now developed into a carpet tycoon, promoting nomad carpet and supporting and improving local economies of Qashqai Tribes in Iran.  

Gholamreza Zollanvari

Carpet Weaving and Economics

The voice over narrator continues that over 30,000 people are now weaving carpet for him and thousands are working in other sections of carpet industry such as Cotton spinning, Dye house, margining etc. The camera, then, shows the close-up of female carpet weavers exposed on the carpet looms they are working on, as the Persian folklore music is playing on. Next, it focuses on male workers in the post-weaving procedure.

The camera cuts into a pretty large carpet shop, full of piles of carpets overlapping each other. In the series of right and left pans showing heaps of carpet, the narrator complains about the fake Chinese, Pakistani, and Indian carpet in international bazaar.

Gabbeh
Nomads Carpet

With emergence of unauthentic carpet makes the struggle harder for authentic nomad carpet sellers in world market. The fake carpet might be cheaper, but the vivifying childlike spirit of nomads generates diversity in colors and creativity in patterns. Despite all the problems, Nomads carpet is still the most popular carpets in the world. The film ends with series of camera’s zoom outing different Persian carpet patterns.

Director’s Perspective

In the First Carpet episode of Persian Carpet (2008), Behrouz Afkhami focuses on the nomads carpet and its current marketing situation. In fact, he depicts the origin and the procedure of weaving carpet within the Qashqai Nomads, but never deals with the elements featuring a typical nomad carpet. His perspective, I think, is simple and cursory when it comes to one of the nomadic handicrafts which, according to his claim, embodies “a world of nuances” and “Iranian spirit”.

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Colors of Memory

Mina-ye shahr-e khamoosh

Colors of Memory or Mina-ye shahr-e khamoosh by Amir Shahab Razavian is an Iranian movie about love quest and lost love after Bam earthquake.

A recently divorced Iranian cardiologist, Baham Parsa (Shahbaz Noshir), in Germany comes back to Iran on bequest of one his father’s closest friend, Mr. Qanati (Ezzatolah Entezami), to perform an urgent surgery. Hurt and sad due to his divorce, Bahman makes up his mind to track back to Iran after 33 years. After watering the geraniums, he leaves for the airport where his daughter, Sarah, gives a small gift on condition that he opens it once he is in Tehran.

At Mehrabad International Airport, he feels uneased and frustrated because his driver, Iraj (Saber Abar), is late for 12 minutes. At hospital, Bahman meets Mr. Qanati and his niece, Mr. Yazdgerdi, the patient with heart problem. Mr. Yazdgerdi is a war veteran with a bullet next to his heart. In regards to the bullet, he says;

This is the last bullet of Iran-Iraq War. It was announced that tomorrow, at 7 o’clock (on 20 July 1988) after UNSC resolution 598, there will be peace. I woke up and got out of the trench to take a breath in peaceful air. All of a sudden, I got shot. Either my watch was one-minute fast, or his was one-minute slow.

Colors of Memory -Iranian Cinema
Last Bullet of Iran-Iraq War

Mr. Qanati is a music instructor as well as a Persian folklore singer. He asks Bahman to join him for a trip to Bam, their hometown which is ruined in earthquake. Later, at night, on a video call with Sarah, Bahman remembers he hasn’t opened her gift yet. He opens it, some marbles reminding him of his childhood’s memory with the girl he loved, Mina.

Next day, Bahman successfully performs the surgery and at night Iraj takes him to Mr. Qanati’s. He lives alone in an apartment. His sisters and her family have died in Bam earthquake. He gives Bahman what has left at his father’s house in Bam. A black and white wedding picture with a dandelion pappus. Mr. Qanati says I played music at your father’s wedding ceremony where all officers were invited. In return, Bahman confesses that he has never liked his father and never missed him, even after his death. He forced me to go abroad, while I loved to stay here.

Trip to Bam

Bahman gives in and the next day with Mr. Qanati and Iraj goes to Bam. At police checkpoint, the police find a small bottle of Alcohol in Iraj’s car, but Bahman claims it as a medical alcohol of his own. So, he escapes the custody. At Bam, they stay at a palm tree garden, a family heritage where Mr. Jebeli keeps and lives in. Bijan, Bahman’s bother, asks him to sell their father’s palm trees garden once he is in Bam. But, the garden is getting dry because of water deficiency caused by clogged qanat’s water tunnel. Bahman goes to cemetery to pay a visit to his mother. He puts flower on his grave after washing the its stone, as a typical ritual in Iran. But, he turns a blind eye on his father’s gave next to her.

Colors of Memory 2008
Iraj & Bahman at Cemetery in Bam

Clogged Qanat

Mr. Qanati, Mr. Jebeli, Iraj and Bahman search for the dry qanat’s well in the desert land behind the garden. While Mr. Qanati goes down to unclog the tunnel, Bahman goes for a walk in town to find his beloved Mina. In search of Mina’s tomb, he inquires about Mina Azarbahram, a Zoroastrian minority, among the deceased name list from a young meets a young tombstone maker. Evidence shows no that Mina is not dead. Back to qanat’s well, Mr. Jebeli informs Bahman that Mina is alive and she is working in a kindergarten in Bam.

Love Story

Back to palm garden, Bahman asks Mr. Qanati’s love story. Here is Mr. Qanati account of the story,

I fell for a girl, like any other men then. I drafted to do my military service. There, there was an educated effluent officer who I played music for him. We got so closed to each other. One day, I asked him to go to her family and tells his father that I want to marry her daughter. He accepts it provided that I play music on his wedding ceremony. I swore to God to do that. I showed him the house. Then he disappred for some days. I though he was sent on mission. When he returns, he was a different man. I visit him in his office. He puts a holy Quran and a loaded gun on a table and begs me either forgive me by this book or kill me by the gun. Putting his head on the table, he begins to cry because he married the girl I loved.

Iran cinema -Amir Shahab Razavian
Bahman & Mr. Qanati at ruins of Bam

Bahman asks what happens then, but he said later. He goes to Arg-e Jadid school for find Mina, but an old woman at school (Rabe’e Madani) tells him that Mina has gone to a kindergarten in Kork, a tiny dry village in Bam county. Once returns to qanat’s well, Mr. Jebeli reveals that Mina’s husband and children died in earthquake. He goes down into qanat where Mr. Qanati continues his unfinished story. He says that I went to the officer’s wedding party to play music because I have sworn to do it. All the officers were there in the garden while I was playing music. I saw her some time until she died, way before the earthquake. So did the officer.

Bahman goes to the kindergarten in Kork village and finds out that Mina has traveled to Germany. He returns and visits his father’s house for the first time after 33 years. He finds Mr. Qanati sitting on the edge of dry Houze sadly. Bahman asks about the name of his beloved girl. Mr. Qanati says in your father’s wedding party I was playing music while all the officers were sitting here and your mother…. His beloved girl was Bahman’s mother. Bahman returns back to Germany and meets Sarah happily at airport.

Colors of Memory Film Review

Amir Shahab Razavian won the Crystal Simorgh for Best Director at   Fajr International Film Festival for Colors of Memory in 2008. The most important element in the film is the “story”. An unhappy but never-tiring tale of love with subtle Iranian cultural references.

Mina-ye Shahr-e Khamoush Meaning

The original title of Colors of Memory is Mina-ye Shahr-e Khamoush. Shar-e Kamoush refers to Bam which is now devastated by earthquake killing over 26,000 people. Therefore, the city of Bam, shahr, is khamoosh, silent. The city which was silenced for him by separation, a kind of farewell to arms of his country and his beloved, Mina. Mina is the voice of love for him. A revitalizing voice in land of dead.

Farwell to Arms

The main character of Colors of Memory, Dr. Parsa who reminds us of Dr. Mahmoud Alam in So Close, So Far (2005), depicted as an unemotional uncommunicative divorcee away from his mother land, Iran. Losing his emotional attachment, his wife, in Germany, now he goes on a quest for his childhood sweetheart, Mina. A non-Muslim girl, a Zoroastrian, living next to them in Bam, Kerman. While in Journey of the Gray Men Afghan minority was depicted, the director in here fleetingly hints at Zoroastrian minority in Iran. An interracial marriage, a universal problem less depicted in Iranian cinema.

Film within Film

Colors of Memory, the third feature film of Amir Shahab Razavian, is a movie coming out of a scene from his first film Journey of the Gray Men. Razavian picks up the sad love story to Ghasem in Journey of the Gray Men and develops it into a new setting, the ruins of Bam City. The love story of Mr. Qanati is the same story of Ghasem in different context. Something of a kind that Abbas Kiarostami did in his Koker Trilogy a decade earlier with similar devastating background, 1990 Manjil–Rudbar earthquake. In Koker Trilogy, whereas Kiarostami was searching for life, Razavian in here seeks tragic love memory. One can say that characters of Razavian’s films are drawn and moved by memory. Memory, despite its traumatic effects, is the main propeller of hero’s journey.

Mr. Qanati: Qanat Digger and Music Player

After Islamic revolution, showing any musical instrument on media was strongly prohibited. So, the musicians and music players are omitted, but never forgotten. During the presidency of Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005), this prohibition turned into limitation. Movies can show them, but TV channels cannot. Mr. Qanati as the name suggest is a Qanat digger who makes living with teaching young learners. We see and hear Mr. Qanati’s singing a popular Isfahani folklore song called “I want to return to Isfahan”, while a young man and a woman playing Dutar. Suffering from lack of passionate love from opposite sex strengthens his love for digging qanats and playing music.    

 Film Location: Bam, Kerman

The setting of the film is Bam city in Kerman. A city full of Persian Qanats and home to the largest adobe structure in the world known as Arg-e Bam, part of Bam and its Cultural Landscape. The devastating earthquake in 2003 razed Bam to ground. The film crew worked nearly three months in the scorching weather of Bam to shoot the film, a particularly harsh condition for Ezzatolah Entezami.

Learn more about the young Iranian director, Amir Shahab Razavian and his films in Iran Cinema on The Seven Beauties.  

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Journey of the Gray Men

Journey of the gray men

Journey of the Gray Men or Safar-e Mardan-e Khakestari by Amir Shahab Razavian is a road movie of three old folk musicians with nostalgic memories to Birjand

Call for the Journey

Bahman, an old Dutar player, arrives in Tehran to find and convince his friends, Esfandiar, puppet player, and Javad, Tombak player, to go on a journey to Birjand, where they all initially met each other. Esfandiar is now a ticket seller in one of theatre houses in Lalehzar Street and Javad, who has developed a heart problem, lives and works in a greenhouse. Getting on an old Chevrolet Station Wagon, they set out on a road journey from Tehran to Birjand after forty years, where they used to perform Persian Marionette to earn money.

Journey of the gray men
Nostalgic Chevrolet Station Wagon

Persian Marionette

In their first attempt, they stop at a mixed school in a mountainous village to perform what they had missed all these years.  The story of the marionette is a love story of a young man named Farrokh Khan who is in love with a beautiful girl, Sarvenaz, but sheriff of the town has his eyes on her, too. Farrokh sets on a journey to Mount Qaf, a legendary mountain in the popular mythology of the Middle East, to fetch Simurgh’s feather, as a power tool, to win Sarvenaz back.

Safar-e Mardan-e Khakestari
Performing Marionette at School
Safar-e Mardan-e Khakestari 2001
Coffee House at Caspian Sea

Stopping at a beach coffee house, they began to smoke hookah and drink tea. Despite their insistence, the owner did not remember them after such a long time. Those who are in debt to him are important to remember, not the others. They left the coffee house disappointed to spend the night on Caspian Sea beach, next to fire where music is in the air. Esfandiar remembers good old day in Golestan Palace, a puppet show place for public, which was closed down after Islamic Revolution in 1979.

Secretive Wedding Picture

The next day, Javad found an unknown wedding picture at a back of sun visor, but put it back. Later on Javad was taken to hospital as result of too much smoking. The doctor warned him to quit; however, he made some excused to continue.

Safar-e Mardan-e Khakestari Film 2001
Wedding Picture behind the Sun Visor

Going down the desert part of Khorasan province, they gave a lift to a group of singers and dancers heading for a wedding ceremony in Fakhr-e Davud village. Turning their car into wedding car, they happily joined the Persian wedding. But, it didn’t last long. After realizing the father of the bride forced her into this marriage, Esfandiar made Bahman and Javad leave it in fury.

Fakhr-e Davud Castle
Fakhr-e Davud Castle
Journey of the Gray Men film
Agha Ghasem Garden

Unrequited Love Story of Ghasem

They unanimously decided to spend the night at Agha Ghasem Garden like old time. Ghasem has been living alone in this garden for nearly half a century. Fifty years ago, when he was doing his military service, he fell in love with a girl. Since he was a simple private, he asked his superintendent to step forward as an experienced man to ask the girl’s father for marriage. But, the superintendent himself fell for the girl and married the girl. Ever since, he has been living alone in this garden where she and her children pay a visit in summer for pleasure. (See Colors of Memory)

Football Fans & Afghan Refugee

The journey went on as the next day, they got into a fight with group of young football fans and badly beaten. The movie stops at the film crew ran toward them to break the fight. On the way to Birjand, they stopped to pick up an old Afghan man heading to desert. The Afghan man has left his country 30 years ago to live in Iran. The Afghans live in camp where law of jungles rule. It has started since 1979. The police checkpoint turned out to be the last destination for Afghan as he was arrested for smuggling marbles!

Journey of the Gray Men
Afghan Refugee
Journey of the Gray Men
Football Fans

Javad who kept resisting telling the death of his father finally gave in. The cause of his death was the death of his closest friend, a goat! Getting to Birjand at night, they spent the night at Bahman’s house where his widowed sister, Rabe’e also lives.

Love Confession

In Birjand, Esfandiar opened his chest out and confessed his love for Bahman’s sister, Rabe’e. Esfandiar has kept the wedding picture of Rabe’e behind the sun visor, a lost love.

Journey of the Gray Men
Rabe’e Youth
Journey of the Gray Men
Rabe’e Elderly
Journey of the Gray Men 2001
Rabe’e at Marionette Show
Journey of the Gray Men 2001
Esfandiar as Peeping Tom

Performing marionette in Birjand finally came true. However, Esfandiar changed the love story of Farrokh and Sarvenaz into an unrequited love, as Rabe’e was watching the show in the first row. Unfortunately, Javad died of heart problem and buried in Birjand, his favorite place. Bahman asked Esfandiar to stay in Birjand, but he left to keep his journey on the road. The film ends Amir Shahab Razavian, his father and mother in the same car in Hamedan. Six months later, his real father passed away. In fact, Journey of the Gray Men is the story of his father and his friend.

Amir Shahab Razavian Director

Journey of the Gray Men Film Review

As the first feature film of Amir Shahab Razavian Journey of the Gray Men has a lot to say. Inspired by the story of his deceased father, the young Iranian director focuses mainly on Persian Marionette, lost love and travel.

Persian Marionette

Razavian reminds us how short our cultural memory has become. Once popular puppet show, with its folklore tales and music, is now forgotten for good due to Iranian Revolution as Esfandiar straightforwardly reveals. The mobile trio puppeteers are the inheritors of Gusans, creative and performing artists dating back to Parthian Empire (247 BC – 224 AD). Gusans were the artists narrating the epic tales along with folklore music and performance on street for public. The Persian marionette’s tales reflect similar aspects in a new form. Entertaining as it used to be and it is, the marionette emphasizes the importance of art and its vital role connecting people with their history. Those disconnected with history are subject to forgetfulness and loss of memories. As Javad brilliantly put, “one who does not think about the past, never care about memories”. 

In Pursuit of Persian Marionette, Lost Love & Memory

Lost Love Memory

Digging the past memories was the main propeller of these three old artists to travel to Birjand, where they befriended first. Birjand is home of sweet and bitter past for them, particularly for Esfandiar who left it heartbroken. Fallen in love with Bahman’s sister, Rabe’e in the narrow alleys of historical part of Birjand, Esfandiar was unable to confess his love for her out of “respectability”, an irrational deep-rooted eastern element of ethics. As a result, he has remained bachelor all his life sticking just to a wedding picture as a memento. Moreover, Ghasem heart breaking tale of love and regret, although short, underlines similar theme which extensively elaborated in his next film, Colors of Memory.  The characters are modern odyssey wandering the land for the lost loves.

Go down memory lane is manifested in real road trip. Travelling from Tehran, visiting scenic landscapes of Hyrcanian Forest, passing by the old Caravanserais, ruins castles and spectacular deserts, all in all make Journey of the Gray Men a genuine road movie.

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Here One Does Not Die

Here One Does Not Die poster

Here One Does Not Die tells a story of private solider who must watch oil pipes on Iran-Iraq borderline alone for a month.

The film opens with the longshot of horseshoe road with two men on a buzzing motorcycle noise heading to the watch post. While telling a film story, Ghasem (Reza Behbudi) take Ashkan (Houman Seyyedi) to a one-room shelter. Ghasem is worried about his wife’ mental health and thinks the baby heals the pain. The observation post is in a remote mountainous area empty of any humans but some wolves. Ashkan has to keep his eyes open for smugglers who hit the pipe at night.

Here one does not die film
Horseshoe Road

One fine day, he sees a girl, Rojin, down below on the green covered flat land carrying stuff to a stony house. Quickly gets on his motorcycle, Ashkan approaches her and asks about her business there. The girl (Bahar Katozi) replies that she is just living in here. As a part of duty, he reports about her presence in the area to Ghasem.

Rojan (a Kurdish name means “shining”) keeps visiting Ashkan day and night to bring some food and have small chitchat. One day Ashkan tries to pay her a visit to her home, but Rojin rebuffs him angrily and asks him to leave. Ashkan becomes suspicious that she might be in cahoots with smugglers. His worry grows when she calls him by his first name over having some food the next day. Ashkan never remembers telling his name to Rojin. Slowly and slowly Ashkan’s state of mind begins to break.

Here One Does Not Die 2016
Ashkan is sharing his secret with Ghasem (Reza Behbudi)

He loses the date and day of the week. On an occasion when Ghasem is back to bring some food and water for him, Ghasem tells that his wife needs to see a doctor because he saw her playing with the dolls.  However, Ashkan refuses his idea and advises him not to do.

The doctors will bother her. They will do something that she forgets everything…I have been with them [Doctors]……I have seen something and somebodies that seemingly did not exist. Only I see them.  

One night he sees some men near the oil pipe through the binoculars. He reports to Ghasem and when Ghasem checks the situation he couldn’t find any evidence. Smoking heavily day in and day out, Ashkan cannot trust his mind anymore.  Through a series of flashback, we see Ashkan on a wheelchair of what appears to be an asylum. To stay focused and get rids of voices he hears, he tries to remember his events of his life by talking loudly to himself. However, it appears futile because Rojin keeps coming back to his loading. In a daring act, after seeing a man near the oil line, he gets into the house of Rojin with his finger on the trigger. Rojin begs him to leave the house immediately before they show up. As he was asking about the men, a door opens and a man enters. Ashkan pulls the trigger and shoots the man dead. Together, they dig a hole and bury the corpse. In an internal monologue, we hear that Ashkan tells himself that “This woman is unreal. I should not get close to women.  

Here One Does Not Die 2016 Iran Cinema
Ashkan (Houman Seyyedi) & Rojin (Bahar Katozi)

Waking up next day on his bed, he sees the dead man he buried smoking cigarette alive before his eyes, only injured in left ear. He warns him not meddle with his business because he has no intention of killing a private solider. After giving a pocket of cigarette, he tries to threaten Ashkan by choking him with his hands. He then leaves quickly. That night Ashkan saw a group of men show up at Rojin house and carry a dead body wrapped in rug. He picks a shovel and quickly runs to the burial place of dead man. To his surprise, there was no corpse. He goes on the verge of collapse and passes out on open space when Ghasem comes announcing that his watch is over. While carrying Ashkan on his back, he begins to narrate a story;

There was a fast sleeper boy who sleeps when the situation comes up. Once he slept at 20:00 and woke up at 12:00 noon tomorrow. He said that he went boating. On the other day, he slept for two entire days. He went boating again. But, one night we he fell asleep, instead of boating, the water pulled him down. He went down like a stone. A week passed. Three months passed. Ten years passed. The boy realized that he is asleep. He tried to scream, but he couldn’t. One day while his mother was playing with his hair, he saw that his boy was staring at her with open eyes. He woke up, but he felt like a boy who is trapped in the body of a grown-up man.

Ghasem carries Ashkan on his back to the motorcycle. Here One Does Not Die ends with the same horseshoe road with two of them on the motorcycle.  

Kondori’s Comment on Film

Hossein Kondori in his news conference at Fajr Film Festival said that at the begging the name of the film was “Zero Point Border”, but later changed into “Here One Does Not Die”. He introduced his film as a psychic drama and believed that from the second half of the film “an analytical point of view dominates the film” which make the audience to think more about the film. Regarding the cinematography of the film, Kondori states that Here One Does Not Die is the first film in Iran which was shot with Blackmagic URSA camera. He added that from the begging he had Houman Seyyedi as the main role, but he faced difficulty to convince him for the role. However, at the end, he talked him into it.

Hossein Kondori
Hossein Kondori, the director

Here One Does Not Die Film Review

Hossein Kondori, a young Iranian filmmaker, goes against the mainstream cinema of Iran to make a film on a psychic private. His narrative of a mentally ill person brings to mind films like Beautiful Mind where the protagonist sees unreal fictional characters. Unlike the John Nash, the protagonist is a soldier dealing with the unknown intruding woman who occupies and unbalances his soul and mind.

Here One Does Not Die
Ashkan in Observation Post

 Since that the director never shares Ashkan’s past experience with the audience and from the exchanging words between the characters, particularly Ashkan’s internal monologue, it is likely that Ashkan’s problem originates from the “presence of woman” of any kind in his life. As long as he is within male presence, he is sound and sensible. But, as soon as a Rojin appears his mind goes numb. In a revealing internal monologue, he points out that he should not get close to this woman, Rojin.

To support my perspective, I would like to pay attention to the Ghasem’s wife. His wife is playing with dolls like a kid and he thinks that making her pregnant will exorcise her illness. In fact, we never hear Ghasem’s wife side of story nor Rojin one. We see the world from the two male characters. In Here One Does Not Die, what we see is a male-centered world where women are either trouble-maker like Rojin or mentally ill like Ghasem’s wife.   

Here One Does Not Die Film Location

The setting of the film is on Iran-Iraq borderline in Kurdish area of Iran. However, the film was shot in Rineh and its surrounding area near Mount. Damavand.

Iran film location
Rineh, Amol County, Mazandaran
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Where Was Ten Little Indians Filmed?

Ten Little Indians 1974 Poster

Ten Little Indians, aka, And Then There Were None was filmed in pre-Revolution Iran by Peter Collinson. The setting of the film is quite tricky. The first shot of the film shows two important monuments in Iran, Persepolis and Shah Mosque in the middle of desert.

Where Was Ten Little Indians Filmed
Ten Little Indians 1974 Opening Scene- Persepolis & Shah Mosque

Perepolis, Shiraz

Then the film cuts to the deserted ruins of Persepolis while we hear a gust of wind sound. Persepolis was the ceremonial capital of Achaemenid Empire in 5th century BC.

Ten Little Indians film location Persepolis
Deserted Persepolis in Ten Little Indians 1974

Shah Mosque, Isfahan

After that, the film jumps to the Shah Mosque. As the camera moves down, we see Elsa Marino (played by Maria Rohm), the female servant of the hotel in a white blouse with sunglasses on, waiting for arrival of the doomed guests.

Maria Rohm in Ten Little Indians -Shah Mosque Isfahan
Maria Rohm in Ten Little Indians -Shah Mosque Isfahan

As she is looking at the open desert before her, the tile of the films appears. So did the credit.

Ten Little Indians was filmed in Iran
Ten Little Indians was filmed in Iran (1974)

The pre-credit sequence and the post-credit of Ten Little Indians is the fruit of editors’ sleight of hand. I mean that, the editors put Persepolis and Shah Mosque, two UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Iran, next to each other which geographically speaking is not right. Shah Mosque is in Isfahan while Persepolis is in Shiraz. The editors reduce the nearly 500 kilometers to almost 30 meters.

Shah Abbasi Hotel, Isfahan

That is not the end. There is more to it. Since Ten Little Indians is an adaptation from Agatha Christie whodunit novel, the director decides to set his film in an isolated place to emphasize its enigmatic atmosphere. So, we see the mysterious hotel in a middle of a nowhere next to the Persepolis ruins. It is not the end of the story. As the ill-fated guests enter the mysterious hotel, the viewers witness shots of Hotel Abbasi Isfahan that is one kilometer away from the entrance of Shah Mosque or New Abbasi Mosque before.

Ten Little Indians in Abbasi Hotel Isfahan

So, the opening of the Ten Little Indians is as weird as the story itself. Click here for Ten Little Indians film review.

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Capernaum: Struggle for Hope

Capernaum Film Poster

Capernaum Film Poster

The Middle East has been struggling with wars for the past 60 years. Daily news on the Middle East particularly Lebanon is an inevitable fact. I am living kilometers away in Tehran, Iran. I am safe here, despite all the prejudice and political-oriented news broadcasted on Western TVs. However, I can’t suppress my anger for war and all the bloodshed and injustice inside and outside of my country.

Iran states television channels broadcast Arab refuges in Syria and Iraq. People are getting used to seeing these violent images which is a huge regret. Human being is getting to see another of his own kind losing his home or getting hurt or killed on daily basis. Was Nietzsche right when he cried out “God is Dead?” Because it seems the world is moving toward the dark valley. But, every now and then, one seems to seek a lightness and hope out of this miserable world. This time Nadine Labaki, the renown Lebanese actress orchestrated this optimistic perspective.

Nadine Labaki in her new film, Capernaum, delves into the lives of the miserable in ghettos of Lebanon and their struggle to survive. Arial shots of shantytown and children’s smoking and playing with plastic and wooden guns in a slow motion, as the gloomy music is on, is the entry of viewers into the world of Capernaum. An overview of the shabby streets filled with garbage and car tires on the roofs from the up looks like an earth with a small black holes. The camera zooms out and a district appears. All in a unicolor of khaki, without a single bright colors.

Philosophical Perspective of Capernaum

Zain El Hajj is shown on courtroom sentenced to five-year prison for stabbing which really surprised me. But, what came after, to be honest, was a real shock. He sued his parents for bringing him into the world!

Capernaum Quote

His question has a philosophical perspective. It questions the concept of the “choice” which a child, a human being, has no control over it. He didn’t ask for it and yet he is paying the tolls. A Heavy one. Isn’t it unfair? If parents can’t afford any things for their kids, why they are breeding so many? Zain asks for the great measure. Zain’s father, Selim, played by Fadi Kamel Youssef, revealed in the courtroom that his upbringing thought him that his children would support him when they grow up. This is what life is. This deep-rooted attitude is widespread in the entire Middle East. Parents in Iran has the same notion and expectation. One has always expected something for doing something. However, in the modern world, where life is getting hard and harder every day, parents shouldn’t have a second thought on having a baby?

Zain parenting Yonas in Capernaum
Zain parenting Yonas in Capernaum

As a subplot for Zain life, we see a mother fighting for life, too. Tigest Ailo (Playing by Yordanos Shiferaw) the illegal Ethiopian refugee in Lebanon has a huge difficulty with keeping his cute son under such a harsh circumstance.

Having impersonated herself as an Rahil, she works illegally in a restaurant to make ends meet. After leaving home, Zain met Tigest in restaurant in an amusement park. She keeps his baby in a women’s toilet to keep her job. Her house is nothing but a space walled with layers of tins. Zian, reluctantly, became her babysitter. He had no choice. Cut the long story short, police finally arrest her for carrying forged resident document and put her in the most notorious jail in Beirut, Roumieh Prison. A space which later on Zain joined as well. Zain stabbed his brother-in-law because of killing his beloved sister, Sahar, acted by Cedra Izam, after getting her pregnant. She was only eleven years old. She couldn’t bear a child at that age.

Never Lose Hope

Zain, despite his naivety, fights to the ends. While he was living at home, he was working hard. When he left home heartbroken, he took care of Rahil’s son, Yonas. Once he tempted to leave Yonas next to street, but his consciousness didn’t allow him. As the pressure became unbearable, and dreaming of travelling to Sweden got into his mind by Maysoun, a Syrian refugee (Played by young Farah Hasno) manipulated by Aspro (Alaa Chouchnieh), the forger of the documents, he finally succumbed. He sold Yonas to get the money for his travel to Sweden.

All in all, Zain’s struggle in this dark world is admirable. So does Nadine Labaki’s creation of this touching tale. The film is a real food for thought. I highly recommend it to film lovers and movie buffs.

Nadine Labaki Zain Al Rafeea Photo
Nadine Labaki Zain Al Rafeea Photo at Cannes Film Festival

One more thing. When I heard that Zain is now living in Norway and going to school like other kids, it became happy. I hope all kids would be able to have proper upbringing so we could have a better world.

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A Gift from Ingmar Bergman to David Lynch: Troubled Psyches

Twin Peaks

If one could choose a major recurrent theme in Ingmar Bergman’s film, that would be, undoubtedly, a troubled psyche. Bergman has been exploring the human psyche from the very beginning of his film career which lasted for nearly six decades. His mastery over probing the deep layers of human’s soul has greatly influenced the American filmmakers, particularly David Lynch. 

David Lynch has repeatedly acknowledged Bergman as one of his favorite filmmakers of all time; however, it seems it is more than that. Being known for his weird, eerie dreamlike films, Lynch, too, shows an immense enthusiasm in digging up the soul and mind of his fictional characters. Of course, this soul reaching is rooted in his what he figuratively calls is fish catching, “Ideas are like fish. If you want to catch little fish, you can stay in the shallow water. But if you want to catch the big fish, you’ve got to go deeper. Down deep, the fish are more powerful and more pure. They’re huge and abstract. And they’re very beautiful.” Lynch, similar to Bergman, attempts to push his bottom where repressed desires and malicious darkness lie. Therefore, reading Lynch through a Bergmanesque filter will contribute to an expanded understanding of Lynch’s aesthetics and visual and thematic proximity of these two great filmmakers.

Bergman’s influence upon Lynch is so substantial and profound that one could claim that Lynch is the surrogate figure of Bergman in American cinema, but much darker and more sinister. Exploring the disquieting side of psyche of both his characters and their dwelling town, Lynch attempts to show the hidden layers of American life, borrowing Roland Bathes’ idea of demystification, he demystifies the American dream and reveals its hideous and dreadful spirit. 

Mulholland Drive could be taken as a greatest reverence of Lynch towards Bergman. There are several similarities between Mulholland Drive and Persona.   Persona is a psychological drama revolving around the relationship between two women, Elizabeth Vogler and Alma. The former is a successful actress who is hospitalized for a nervous breakdown with symptoms of “muteness and a near catatonic lassitude” and the latter is the pretty young nurse who is in charge of her care. These two characters through some mysterious process exchange identities. The issue of identity crisis and transformation also echo in Mulholland Drive, an amnesiac brunette (Laura Harring) and an aspirational blonde (Naomi Watts) with shifting identities. Bergman displayed the mysterious identities of his characters in two ways. The first is through the mirror exercise where the initiator and responding character is almost impossible to pin down and the second one is the metamorphosis, a process of transformation of the characters. The idea of flux identity is similarly expressed in Lynch’s film. The wounded and traumatized brunette who is unable to remember anything including her name _ after taking shower she picked up a name, Rita, from the poster of Rita Hayworth on the bathroom wall through the mirror shot. Later in the film, Betty put on a blonde wig on Rita’s head in front of the bathroom’s mirror and then said “You look like someone else”. It seems that Betty perpetually provides identity for Rita and she passively adopts it. The question of identity reaches its climax after the lovemaking of Rita and Betty in bed. It’s where Lynch imitates what Bergman did in Persona: merging the faces of the two female characters in one shot. Unification of the faces of characters in these two films is considered a really important turning point of narratives.

After Rita and Betty visual and physical coupling, they enter into a mysterious club known as “Club Silencio” where the Magician performs on stage. The show is all an illusion, La Grande Illusion ever! The world where living, Betty, and the dead, Rita, are so close to each there that is impossible to distinguish which is which. Betty’s trembling in the club is an exact echo of what the magician, Albert Emanuel Vogler played by Max von Sydow, did in The Magician (1958), “He calls you down, he calls you forth, beyond the dead, the living, the living dead.”  Rita, Betty and the Club Silencio are the precise reflection of these concept, respectively.

Surrealism of Mulholland Drive could be traced back to the weird visual and narrative composition of Hour of the Wolf (1968). Mulholland Drive could be separated into two parts: Betty’s dream and after her waking up. So does the Hour of Wolf. The first part is quite realistic, whereas the second part is filled with surrealism qualities which is the reflection of the disturbed psyche of the protagonist.   Painter Johan Borg (von Sydow) is haunted by demons and images of his former lover, Veronica Vogler (Ingrid Thulin). Parallel plot could be found in Lynch’s film and narrative. Betty is an artist like the Johan Borg and her life is haunted by her former lover, Rita, who left her to joined the young director, Adam Kesher (Played by Justin Theroux). Projection of demons and wild beasts in Hour of the Wolf corresponds with the weird characters of Lynch’s film such as the dead man behind the café which through the technique of surrealism could be best pieced together. Given these facts, Lynch is the heir to the psychic world of the Bergman ’worldview in America. The green light of the American dream which beckoned J. Gatsby is now turned into a green-eyed troubled spirit feeding upon itself and its surrounding world. Betty, the broken doll of dream factory of Hollywood, encounters the rotten soul of Hollywood and by her own volition she walks beside it, hire a hitman to kill her ex-lover and in the end, commits suicide herself. While the troubled psyche of Bergman’s characters is the result of lack of spirituality and faith, the characters of Lynch’s films are not related to any spiritual metaphysics, in a sense they are the victims of the larger rotten dream, a dream that in the end reveals itself to be nothing but a dreadful nightmare.   

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