29th Annual Festival of Films from Iran
From February 2 through March 3, the Gene Siskel Film Center presents the "29 th Annual Festival of Films from Iran," presenting Chicago premieres of eight films by directors working within and outside of Iran. We open with the U.S. premiere of the documentary MOUTH HARP IN A MINOR KEY: HAMID NAFICY IN/ON EXILE by Maryam Sepehri. The film examines the experience of exile through the life and career of noted film historian and cultural critic Hamid Naficy, author of "A Social History of Iranian Cinema." On February 2, the audience is invited to a post-film reception sponsored by the Muslim American Leadership Alliance .
The films in this year’s series represent transgressive jabs at the status quo in many forms, from the goofy, scathing SLY, a thinly-disguised satire on a hardline former Iranian president, to PIG, which has rude comic fun with the plight of blacklisted Iranian filmmakers. SHEEPLE, a raucous action film, makes subjects including the underworld drug trade and a family honor killing fodder for black comedy.
I WANT TO DANCE, by veteran director Bahman Farmanara, is released following a three-year ban for violating a religious and social dictate. His new TALE OF THE SEA couches references to protest and societal unrest in a drama of marital discord, with popular female stars Fatemeh Motamed-Arya and Leila Hatami.
RONA, AZIM’S MOTHER, portrays a family crisis exacerbated by a law that discriminates against immigrants in Iran. In an opposite take on family matters, the romantic comedy REZA takes a rare light-hearted approach to the dilemma of couple’s separation, despite the fact that they appear to be made for each other.
The Gene Siskel Film Center thanks the many individuals, companies, and agencies in Iran and in the U.S. whose invaluable efforts, good will and support have made this year’s festival possible. Special thanks to: Mohammad Atebbai, Iranian Independents; Farabi Cinema Foundation; Katayoon Shahabi, Noori Pictures; Armin Miladi, Daricheh Cinema; and Nasrine Médard de Chardon, DreamLab Films. Special thanks to promotional partner Kodoom.
Mouth Harp in a Minor Key: Hamid Naficy In/On Exile
2017, Maryam Sepehri, Iran/USA, 62 min.
Exile as a radically transformative experience is the theme of this documentary tracing the journey of Hamid Naficy from his boyhood growing up in Iran under the Shah to the 1979 Revolution, when he was studying in the U.S., to his present as the foremost historian of Iranian cinema and renowned authority on Iranian diaspora culture. Filmmaker Sepehri explores the impact of history before and after the Islamic Revolution on the generation of those whose lives are divided between early life in the homeland and an adulthood in permanent exile in the West. The film delineates Naficy’s unique role as an interpreter of the experience in all of its complexity. In English and Persian with English subtitles. DCP digital.
Preceded by ELLIS ISLAND (1969, Hamid Naficy, USA, 38 min.), a time-capsule documentary of life in a California student hippie commune. Digital video. (BS)
Rona, Azim's Mother
Rona, Mader-e Azim
2018, Jamshid Mahmoudi, Iran/Afghanistan, 89 min.
With Mohsen Tanabandeh, Fatemeh Mirzaei
“Solemn, heartfelt, and movingly acted…crafts memorable images that remain steeped in the everyday.”--Sarah Ward, Screen Daily
A family betrayal brings urgency to an adult son’s sacrificial love for his aged mother in this deeply emotional drama by the Iranian-Afghan director/producer team of Jamshid and Navid Mahmoudi, Iran’s answer to the Dardenne brothers. Afghanistan’s submission for 2019 Oscar consideration, the film powerfully foregrounds an Afghan immigrant family’s love for their matriarch Rona (excellent first-time actress Fatemeh Hosseini) when a health crisis threatens her life and tears at the fabric of their togetherness. A boisterous, music-filled party introduces the extended clan, but the jollity is short-lived when Rona’s unexpected diagnosis sends them reeling, and puts eldest son Azim (Tanabandeh, OFFSIDE), a serious and modest sewer worker, at the center of an expensive backstreet quest that will underline the second-class status of immigrants in Iran. In Persian and Dari with English subtitles. DCP digital. (BS)
2017, Mani Haghighi, Iran, 108 min.
With Hasan Majuni, Leila Hatami
“A dizzy DayGlo meta-comedy.”--Jessica Kiang, Variety
“A farce in Farsi…takes a jokes first, social comment second approach.”--Amber Wilkinson, Eye for Film
Wacky is a term not often applied to an Iranian film, but PIG ventures into new territory with this wild, farcical black comedy about a blacklisted filmmaker. Hassan (Majuni), a slovenly egocentric director whose oeuvre consists of sleazy slasher films, has been banned from working by the government. When a serial killer begins targeting and beheading all of Iran’s banned filmmakers, ignoring Hassan, he feels his artistic integrity insulted. Director Haghighi (MEN AT WORK)--who cheekily portrays himself as one of the beheaded and stages his own funeral-- spins out subplots as wacky as the Felliniesque bug-spray commercials his disgruntled anti-hero is reduced to directing on the QT. Surreal musical numbers, extravagant fantasy sequences, and Hassan’s jealous plot against the director who has dared to offer his mistress Shiva (Hatami) a role make for a bizarre and spicy mix that reflects obliquely on Iran’s proclivity for censuring its filmmakers. In Persian with English subtitles. DCP digital. (BS)
2018, Alireza Motamedi, Iran, 94 min.
With Alireza Motamedi, Sahar Dowlatshahi
“Whimsical originality…every turn of this offbeat comedy undercuts audience expectations.”-- Deborah Young, Hollywood Reporter
This fresh and unexpected take on the romantic comedy delivers a thoroughly enjoyable look at an accidental ladies’ man navigating the mysteries of female attraction when his capricious wife Fati (Dowlatshahi) calls it quits. Reza (director Motamedi), a big blonde teddy bear of an Isfahan architect, is clueless when his wife of nine years asks for a divorce. He gamely follows through to please her, and the amiable pair don hostile faces to indicate their seeming incompatibility to the judge. At loose ends, Reza finds that women find him, including Violet (Setareh Pesyani), the winsome café owner he consoles in a crisis. Dating lurches along, but irrepressible Fati has a way of dropping back into his life at the most inopportune moments. A bonus factor is the film’s Isfahan setting, shown off to alluring advantage by Ali Tabrizi’s cinematography. In Persian with English subtitles. DCP digital. (BS)
I Want to Dance
2015, Bahman Farmanara, Iran, 95 min.
With Reza Kianian, Saber Abar
Banned for three years, this gentle subversive comedy was finally permitted release under the censored title I WANT TO, since public dancing is officially forbidden in Iran. Nima (Kianian), an aging author, seeks relief from his writer's block. One day a mysterious CD is thrust into his hands by a panhandling street urchin, and an infectious dance tune that only he can hear becomes embedded in his head. Dance he does, whenever the lively tune kicks in, spreading crazy joy in the streets in the face of public malaise and the grim ills of depression and addiction discovered closer to home in his own family. Nima is soon hauled off in a straitjacket, but the dance aftermath spreads in unexpected places. Kianian’s astonishingly nimble and sprightly performance aptly embodies the rebellious spirit of Farmanara’s quasi-musical about a society in which it is more acceptable to be insane than to be happy. In Persian with English subtitles. DCP digital. (BS)
Maghz-kaye Koochak Zang-Zadeh
2018, Houman Seyedi, Iran, 102 min.
With Navid Mohammadzadeh, Farhad Aslani
“A zany plunge into parodied violence Indian-style…well-choreographed and sustained action scenes.”--Deborah Young, Hollywood Reporter
An over-the-top comic gangster film is an anomaly in Iranian cinema, making SHEEPLE, with its lean, mean satirical streak and copious gunplay, a genre standout. Nominated for thirteen awards at Tehran’s Fajr Film Festival, and winner of four, including the Best Film audience award, this raucous taboo-breaker has clearly found favor with a hometown crowd hungry for homegrown action. Bullying drug lord Shakoor (Aslani) oversees a gang that sells crystal meth produced by his stable of slave laborers, including children. Bringing up the rear in this rotten- to-the-core empire is loser brother Shahin (Mohammadzadeh), the film’s swaggering but cowardly anti-hero. Gang warfare takes a backseat to a crisis of family honor when sister Mona (Marjan Etefaghian) lifts her scarf to give a man a peek at her striped ponytail, and a phone video of the event goes viral. In Persian with English subtitles. DCP digital. (BS)
2018, Kamal Tabrizi, Iran, 90 min.
With Hamed Behdad, Vishka Asayesh
“A nothing’s-sacred spoof…a hoot to watch.”--Deborah Young, Hollywood Reporter
This thinly disguised and entirely fictional satirical profile of the rise to power of Iran’s former hardline president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is yet another jab at the status quo by director Tabrizi, whose 2004 comedy hit THE LIZARD lampooned Iran’s Islamic clergy. Tabrizi may play fast and loose with the biographical details, but the portrait is unmistakable, with lookalike actor Behdad as Samadi, a buffoonish yokel and stridently moralistic accidental politician who launches his campaign for Parliament from his ramshackle house where chickens run free. The right-wing self-proclaimed revolutionary plans to boost his public profile by disrupting a rock concert. The stunt goes awry in a way that works hilariously in his favor and serves to make him the clueless pawn of cynical powers who note the potential populist appeal of a man who is easily manipulated. In Persian with English subtitles. (BS)
Tale of the Sea
2018, Bahman Farmanara, Iran, 97 min.
With Bahman Farmanara, Fatemeh Motamed-Arya, Leila Hatami
“The filmmaker’s most personal and touching film to date.”--Deborah Young, Hollywood Reporter
Veiled references to the year 2009, when Iran erupted in waves of political demonstrations that were ultimately crushed by brutal violence, permeate this poetic, mystery-filled story of a man teetering on the edge of mist-shrouded madness and facing the imminent death of his marriage. Writer Taher Mohebi, played by director Farmanara (A HOUSE BUILT ON WATER; SMELL OF CAMPHOR, SCENT OF JASMINE), is a man in poor health who has just been released from an asylum to the care of his much younger wife Jaleh (Motamed-Arya). She is close to the limit of endurance for their life in a remote seaside retreat, and for her husband’s solitary reveries, secret meetings, and suspected past infidelities. When young Parvaneh (Hatami), adult daughter of an estranged friend, arrives unannounced with a life-altering revelation, it proves a turning point in more than marriage. In Persian with English subtitles. DCP digital. (BS)