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Wannabe Fathers and Sons... Iranian film week review

The Iranian Film Week in Budapest opening film, "Kheili Dour, Kheili Nazdik", (Very far, very near), 2OO5, directed by Sayyed Reza Mir-Karimi, was one of the best of the lot and also the longest with a running time of 12O minutes. A middle-aged neurosurgeon (played by the charismatic actor Masoud Rayegany) comes back to Teheran on the eve of the Persian New Year after a long stay in the west to spend the holidays with his teenage son, an avid student of astronomy. You can see that he feels a little guilty about having spent so much time away from his family and he is bearing an expensive telescope as a gift for the estranged boy. He is received with great respect by his medical colleagues but soon finds out to his great consternation that his son is suffering from a terminal brain tumor. The doctor is now desperate to reach out to his neglected son but finds that the boy has gone off to a village in the desert to join a group carrying out astronomical observations, and has turned off his mobile phone. In these opening scenes we see modern high rise office buildings and freeways choked with traffic – modern Teheran looks a lot like Los Angeles, but now it becomes a road movie through the desert outback beyond the city.

The doctor gets into his luxurious late model Mercedes sedan and sets out for the village where his son is supposed to be. Along the way he picks up a stranded villager dressed in traditional garb who seems to be some kind of wandering medicine man. The doctor calls his passenger „Hajj” meaning one who has made the pilgrimage to Mecca, but he is in fact not a Hajj, and the man in cloak and Turban addresses the doctor as „Engineer”. But this is not their only misunderstanding for the two men are worlds apart in their views of the world and their conversation in this long section of the film is a dissertation on he gigantic gap between traditional Iran of the villages and modern Iran of the capital. All this is played out against a game of verbal confusion between modern astronomy and ancient astrology.

When the doctor finally gets to the dusty village in the middle of a desert with other-worldly rock formations, he finds that his son has moved on to an abandoned mine where the observation of the heavens will be even better. There after a significant meeting with a dedicated young female doctor running a dilapidated village clinic, he pushes on further out into the desert only to run out of gas and is then beset by a raging sandstorm. Taking refuge inside the car he falls asleep and wakes up to find himself buried alive in his own Mercedes. This last section of the film, which goes on and on, is truly agonizing, almost unbearable. From a picture of galaxies in an astronomy book we get the title of the film – these galaxies are so far away yet they are close compared to others. The repentant father is now so close to rejoining his dying son, but … Just when all hope seems lost a thump is heard from above, the sand is pushed away and a hand comes in through the sunroof of the car. We hear the boys voice –„father!” –and father’s faltering hand reaches up to make a finger to finger contact obviously meant to resemble the famous image of Michelangelo’s God reaching down to Adam.

What does it all mean? – Alienation, trial and last minute redemption, and along the way a panorama of Iranian life from the most modern to the most traditional with absolutely spectacular desert photography and a panoply of sharply drawn characters representing all aspects of life in Iran. Were it not for the punishingly overextended entrapment in the car I would be tempted to call this film a masterpiece, but it is in any case an extremely powerful piece of work and a landmark of the new Iranian cinema – one in which a major character, the dying boy, is never actually seen in the film … although we repeatedly hear his recorded voice on a cellphone.

Seyyed Reza Mir-Karimi (born 1966) is a younger director/writer/producer and „So near, so Far” was his third directed film, submitted to the Oscars in the foreign language category for 2OO5.

The next two films, „The Color of Paradise” (Rang-e Khoda”) centering on a blind boy, and „Behind the Curtain of Fog” (Poshte.Pardeye-Meh”) in which the central character is a deaf-mute kid, both around ten or eleven years old, again deal with estrangement between a father and son in the former, and a would be father and orphan in the other.

The actual Iranian title of the first film is „The color of God” (Khoda) – not Paradise –and makes one wonder who is responsible for such lapses in translation. In an extremely clever early scene the sightless lad, Mohammad, uses all his other senses to save a little bird that has fallen out of its nest from a hungry stray cat by (1) warding the cat off with stones, and (2) with excruciating effort climbing the tree the bird came from and restoring the little tweeter to its nest. This is not just any old blind boy. The climax of the film is reached when Mohammad bursts into tears lamenting the fact that God has made him blind so now he can’t see Him, but we can easily see that, if there is a God, this kid is closer to him than we will ever be. This film is a very well made first class tear jerker and technical masterpiece in which the blind boy looks like he is really blind and everything else is letter perfect. The scenery out in the country here is lushly green unlike the deserts we see in many other Iranian films and the photography glows in every frame.

Mohammad, the blind boy, (Mohsen Ramezani) is loved by everyone except his widowed father, who regards the boy as a burden and an obstacle standing in the way of a possible second marriage. The father is a terrible loser and the marriage proposal he hopes will get him out of his dismal lonely rut is turned down at the last minute as „unpropitious”. At his wits end he is finally driven by his elderly mother to reconcile with Mohammad and perform as a father. In a spectacular final sequence as father is leading Momammad seated on a horse back home over a rickety wooden bridge, the bridge collapses and into the rushing torrent below goes Momammad horse and all. We are now in Deliverance land. As Momammad is swept away over the rapids and disappears into the swirling waters father plunges in after him and is also swept away. In the last scene we see the apparently drowned boy and his half drowned father washed up on the beach by the sea. Coming to, father lovingly embraced his drowned son’s body but the camera focusses on the boys limp hand which starts to move … heavy going, trial and last minute redemption again.

„Color of Paradise”, 1999, was the Iranian submission to the Oscars in 2OOO and director Majid Majidi (born 1959) is a veteran helmer with 16 films in his bag since 1981, some of which have been recognized with festival awards.

„Behind the Curtain of Fog” (2OO4) directed by Parviz Sheikh Tadi, also centers on a young boy with a handicap, but this is a horse of another color. The handicap here is deafness, but the kid who plays the hearing impaired protagonist is a natural comedian, and the film itself, while still addressing the serious issues of an orphaned boy needing a father and a widowed man in need of a wife, is much lighter in touch than the preceding film and is even sprinkled with a few comic moments. Motaze who attends a provincial school way out in the sticks can read lips through his thick glasses and speaks in funny broken phrases, but he is quite smart, able to communicate one way or another, and strong minded. While popular with the other students, he is a royal pain in the butt to the overly strict headmaster and English teacher of the school.

The headmaster, a neurotic widower from the city, feels exiled out here in a country school but he has his eye on a pretty young widow who works in the local bazaar and happens to be Motaze’s mother. She often comes around to the school to pick her son up and gradually the headmaster begins to insinuate himself into her life, leading eventually to a full fledged if clumsy and faltering attempt at courtship. Motazen who is often severely punished by the headmaster has developed a very antagonistic relationship with him and does everything he can to block the incipient courtship – until the day that the teacher has thrown in the towel and is getting ready to move back to the city. At this point the boy has a sudden revelation, and realizes that this man could well be the father he needs. Alas, too late – the man has made his decision. In the last scene although the boy chases him down the road begging him to stay, he plods on and out of the picture. A bit frustrating, but at least death is not hovering over all as in the other two father-son films.

Coming up next, two war films, two comedies, an independent minded woman tries to fight the system, and a surrealistic exercise with echoes of Bunuel.

Alex Deleon


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