Gozaran-Time Passing: Film Review

Pieter van Huystee Film
Sober but moving study of an Iranian conductor’s exhilarating attempt to bring Western music to Iran has cross-cultural appeal

Dutch documaker Frank Scheffer explore the effort of one composer to bring his Western music to Iran.

The plaintive notes of a musician’s exile from his beloved native land underscore the beautifully made Gozaran – Time Passing by Dutch documaker Frank Scheffer, whose films have explored musical talents as diverse as Frank Zappa and Gustav Mahler. Although the film’s subject, Nader Mashayekhi, is a composer, here the focus is on his daring experiment to bring Western classical and contemporary music to Iran, a short-lived but exhilarating dream that catches the viewer up in a world of great music, poetry and desire for change. Made soberly but with great feeling, the film’s cross-cultural theme and emphasis on young women musicians should broaden TV interest considerably.

Mashayekhi had been living abroad for 30 years when he was invited to return to his native Iran in 2005 to conduct the Tehran Philharmonic Orchestra. He goes with the bold idea of bringing new music to a culturally closed circuit world. Rather surprisingly, he recruits an orchestra composed mainly of young women, some of whom play instruments like the trumpet rare in Iran; there is even a female soloist, which is generally a taboo. Most astonishing of all is his choice of music:  Mahler and Arvo Part, whose “St. John Passion” is performed with a giant crucifix projected behind the orchestra.

Two years later he’s back in Vienna, morosely brooding over his broken dreams and feeling more than ever like a composer in exile.   

Avoiding all the political intrigues that must have been transpiring behind the scenes, Scheffer shows the conductor working quietly with his musicians, explaining Mahler’s vision in a few carefully chosen words. The pretty faces of the young women in their black headscarves soak up his lessons and in individual interviews they echo his idea that Iran has become a society where it’s very difficult to express one’s feelings, if not through the outlet of music, painting and poetry.

The composer himself is a special cross of Eastern and Western influences, and his deep love for Iran and its traditions provides the film with an on-going motif. He seeks inspiration in the primordial landscape of Iran’s deserts, whose startling beauty is captured on HD cam by cinematographer Melle van Essen. Listening to natural sounds in an ancient abandoned village, Mashayekhi says that Iranian poetry, particularly Hafez, has changed his understanding of the sound music of John Cage. Though this could easily have turned an abstruse tract for music scholars, Scheffer skilfully edits the material in a way that keeps the film comprehensible and aesthetically moving, without ever lowering its high intellectual tone.

Venue: IDFA Film Festival (competing), Nov. 21, 2011.
Production companies: Pieter van Huystee Film, EuroArts in association with Dreyer Gaido
Director: Frank Scheffer
Screenwriter: Frank Scheffer, Michael Dreyer
Producers: Pieter van Huystee, Bernd Hellthaler
Director of photography: Melle van Essen
Editors: Frank Scheffer, Riekje Ziengs
Sales Agent:  Eye Film Institute Netherlands
90 minutes.

comments powered by Disqus