Archive for June 8th, 2018

by Anubhav Bist

A woman, her identity obscured by a black veil, steps out of her taxi and disappears into the dead of night. Having collected his fare from this mysterious passenger, Haseem readies to depart until he hears cries coming from the backseat of his cab. There he finds an abandoned infant, who’s survival is now his responsibility.

The set up is akin to a Kafkaesque nightmare and, as Hashem’s search leads him to a deserted construction site, the streets of Tehran assume a dreamlike quality; the minimalist mise-en-sense of deep shadows and abandoned urban environments isolating Hashem from the modern world. However, defining an aesthetic layout can be difficult as Ebrahim Golestan’s first feature shares many of the hallmarks one associates with an ambitious directorial debut. The Brick and the Mirror/Khesht Va Ayeneh unfolds episodically, sometimes feeling like a collection of short stories. As Hashem seeks guidance for the bizarre situation he’s found himself in, hopelessly conversing with friends at a cafe or visiting various state institutions for answers, Golestan uses each episode as an opportunity to experiment with both the narrative and formal conventions of cinema: from the disrupting the story’s rhythm with jump cuts or documentary style montage, to shifting from the film’s faux cinéma vérité style of realism to more abstract or philosophical forms of storytelling (one particular set piece involving Hashem visiting a police station plays out like an absurdist one-act). However, the heart of the story that ties these episodes together is a powerful relationship drama between Hashem and his girlfriend Taji, both of whom assume the role of the mystery child’s caretakers; with Hashem looking to rid himself of the child while Taji views it as an opportunity to save their rocky relationship – even motivation for all three to start a life together.

Though relatively unknown in the west, outside his connection with lover and frequent collaborator Forough Farrokhzad (having produced the great poet’s sole directorial credit, the 1963 masterpiece The House Is Black/Kẖạneh sy̰ạh ạst), Ebrahim Golestan remains a bit of a controversial figure in the history of Iranian cinema. His brash and almost volatile personality, along with a perceived disregard toward Iranian movie goers (highlighted by his antics during the 1969 Shiraz Festival, where he antagonized audience members), leaves an unflattering impression with many critics and intellectuals who have followed his career. Nonetheless, few would ever question Golestan‘s reputation as a pioneer or this 1963 existential portrait of a pre-revolutionary Iran, a reflection of the director’s own disillusionment with his homeland following the coup of Mohammad Mosaddegh, as anything short of a masterpiece. Holding the distinction of being first filmmaker in Iran to establish his own film studio (Golestan Film Unit), Golestan built a prolific body of work as a documentary filmmaker and helped many prominent Iranian filmmakers get their starts. Sadly, censorship under the Shaw and unreceptive audiences in Iran continued to frustrate Golestan, prompting him to self-exile in 1978. (more…)

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