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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