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MONTREAL – Less a history of post-Revolution Iranian cinema than an assessment of the ways artists have been hobbled by censorship, Jamsheed Akrami‘s A Cinema of Discontent pairs plentiful interviews with thorough illustrations of the censors’ most troublesome demands. Both enriching for those who follow Iranian film closely and an eye-opener for less worldly film buffs, the doc could attract a modest audience at art houses and should have legs on home video.
On one hand, the film explains how some things a first-time viewer might take to represent simple cultural differences are something much stranger: After a newbie-friendly definition of the hijab, narrator Sara Nodjoumi explains that no, Iranian women don’t wear those head scarves within their homes — and certainly don’t wear them to bed, the bath, or (!) while blow-drying their hair, as we see them do here in an assortment of films.
Censors simply won’t abide any representation of domestic scenes that expose parts of a woman or male/female contact that the stricter members of society wouldn’t be comfortable with on a public street. So kissing is forbidden, even when it’s thoroughly non-sexual; under no circumstances must a woman dance or be heard singing, even if the film’s picture shows her moving her mouth to the music we hear.
Through a wealth of film clips reaching back decades, we see that commercial films typically roll with the goofiness of these constraints while art-film directors write around them, limiting the kinds of stories they can tell because they refuse to bowdlerize the drama.
Akrami offers clips of some creative workarounds for our amusement — as when a proud father goes to hug the bride on her wedding day, and the camera transforms her into a child, lest the audience be shocked at a grown woman being touched by a man. More seriously, he explores how some of the tendencies admirers think of as integral to Iranian cinema — minimalism, the “aesthetics of omission” — are directly related to limitations placed on artists.
An impressive number of those film artists are interviewed here, from Bahman Ghobadi — who describes being an Iranian filmmaker as “torture” — to A Separation director Asghar Farhadi, who acknowledges that every now and then — in Fireworks Wednesday and About Elly, for example — he can stage a forbidden scene in such an emotionally involving way that the censors forget their job and let him get away with it.
Production Company: Jam-Hi
Director-Screenwriter-Editor-Producer: Jamsheed Akrami
Directors of photography: Andrew Blum, Jamsheed Akrami
Music: Rouzbeh E.
No rating, 85 minutes
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