This all resulted in many interesting conversations and led me to seek out Ehsan Khoshbakht, the director of Filmfarsi, to find out more about the film and the cinema that is its subject. We discuss the process that led to the film; the Iranian film industry in this period, the extent to which it is transnational, co-productions, the importance of film festivals such as the Moscow Film Festival to Iranian Cinema; the relationship of Filmfarsi to the Iranian New Wave; the melodramatic mode of much of this cinema that crosses across various genres (crime films, musicals, domestic melodrama); we discuss how much of this cinema was lost in the aftermath of the revolution and why this was so. We also discuss the process of recovering the films, which are collectively also a history of Iran and Iranian people in this period. The podcast can be listened to below:
The Cinema had its own star system:
that crossed over into other areas of popular culture:
had its own magazines and cinematic cultures:
…was often highly sexualised in ways that would not be acceptable post-Revoultion:
A discussion of Filmfarsi, a film by Ehsan Khoshbakht, on a mode of filmmaking extremely popular in Iran — urban gangster films, melodramas, musicals — set in urban working class milieus, that evoked and challenged the country’s vaunted leap in modernity. IAccording to Ehsan Khoshbakht, the film’s director, ‘Something rare, euphoric and mad was recorded on celluloid: the Iranian way of life after the second world war, with all its paradoxes. Even the sleaziest films became documents. If the majority of key Iranian arthouse films of the 1960s and 1970s were set in villages and rural areas (a tradition continued until after the revolution), filmfarsi was about the thriving cities, which were expanding blindly, thanks to petrodollars’.
t’s very different to the type of cinema Abbas Kiarostami was also doing in this period. It’s a cinema quickly banned after the ’79 revolution, and a cult on VHS. The filmmaker shows the wide range of filmmaking, its transnational perspective, its ritual and fetishistic post -79 consumption, and well evokes why it was so powerful, why it’s been banned and why it is so cherished.
He’s also offered a wonderful introduction in The Guardian, which can be found here.
It begins with: ‘Shortly after the 1979 Iranian revolution, the country’s national newspapers published a joint subpoena, unique in film history. All the key stars of “filmfarsi” – a form of popular cinema that embodied the aspirations and illusions of a modernising society – were summoned to the revolutionary court. The careers of hundreds of actors and directors ended overnight. Unlike the Hollywood blacklisting of the McCarthy era, there was not even the opportunity for a mock hearing. The cinema, seen as emblematic of corruption, “westoxification” and the decadence of the ousted Pahlavi regime, was consigned to oblivion.
Those of you interested in watching the film can follow up bookings here. Many thanks to Wales One World for their superb programme and for the free screenings.
You can see Ehsan Khoshbakht speak to David Gillam on Filmfarsi here:
One event, the robbery of a jewelry shop, bookends the beginning and end of the film; but by the time we are shown it the second time, our views and our sympathies have been altered. Hussain (Hossain Emadeddin) is a war vet, currently on cortisone as a result of being wounded during his service, and his body has ballooned and is unrecognizable even to himself. Once in charge of electronic communications in the army, he now delivers pizzas for a living; even his old army mates don’t want to be seen with him, as if he’s contagious.
Hussein’s deliveries take him all over the city, and all over the city we see an enormous economic divide and institutionalized social distinctions. We witness assorted injustices, many mere exercises in power but no less potent for being petty. The camera follows Hussein on his scooter through Tehran leaving enough room in the frame so that we see people going about their daily lives in those bustling, dirty streets. Thus the film places Hussein in his particular context and thus a whole way of life is revealed, sometimes by indirection, some aspects only hinted at, others allegorised: Hussein remembers when women didn’t have to wear a veil; his fiancé is concerned that her having removed hers might have offended him; drinking and dancing aren’t allowed yet some of them can do it with impunity; the police likes to harangue the liberal middle-class; a lowly soldier can’t afford to alienate his superior; dust and dirt are everywhere except in the jewelry shop and the rich boy’s flat. It’s a divided, repressed country with an enormous gap between rich and poor that is shown to be amongst the worst of injustices: all gold is metaphorically shrouded crimson in this film.
By the end, Hussein’s story, which we at first thought to be a crime drama about a thug, is shown to be a tragedy about a person who does his duty, one so humane he goes to great lengths to ensure a young soldier may eat without reprisals. Jafar Panahi’s achievement in showing us the humanity of these people in that culture is a triumph of art, emotional tact and political courage. American directors should see Crimson Gold. There are many forms of censorship; Iranian artists suffer under an authoritarian regime; American ones from an enslavement to Mammon that is just as effective a censor. It does anyone good to see what a filmmaker with insight, art and humanity is able to convey even with few means and in a society with fewer freedoms.