By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
In his recent study Close-Up: Iranian Cinema Past, Present and Future, Iranian scholar Hamid Dabashi argues that as Iranian film reaches larger world audiences, its makers need to embrace a less nativist perspective, or risk the sort of exoticization -- the National Geographic effect -- that plagues many Third World filmmakers. Dabashi is concerned with not merely the international reception of Iranian cinema but with its very future, as well as with that of a country in the midst of shaking off a tyrannical theocracy. Surprisingly, one of the filmmakers he believes has failed in his responsibility as a public intellectual, and let his creative ego run amok, is Abbas Kiarostami, whose 1999 The Wind Will Carry Us contains, Dabashi argues, “one of the most violent rape scenes in all cinema.” The scene? A Tehran documentarian retrieves a bucket of fresh milk from a young Kurdish woman in a dark stable. It sure didn’t look like Straw Dogs when I saw the film, and that‘s the problem. Dabashi holds that in revealing what would have remained private in the director’s earlier work, Kiarostami dehumanizes the girl, and, in the process, reaches the limit of universalizing something that is, in fact, culturally specific. Who knew?
One reason this matters to audiences in the West is that it begs the question of how we are to look at films by Kiarostami and Makhmalbaf without Edward Said‘s Orientalism in one hand and Dabashi’s book in the other. Is it fair to expect Kiarostami to bear a heavier burden of the real than, say, Michael Mann? Does making politically righteous films excuse Makhmalbaf from aesthetic critique? How, too, are we to watch the documentary My Name Is Rocky, featured in the UCLA series “12th Annual Celebration of Iranian Cinema”? Crudely shot, the video opens in a Tehran courtroom in which runaway girls come before an unseen male judge to plead their case. Theirs is a pathetic and depressing litany of abuse: the paternal beatings, the forced marriage, the rape. It‘s tough, at times unpleasant viewing, but what keeps you watching are the girls, who hold you with their tears, their nail polish, their lipstick and, in one case, a black eye. Director Bahman Moshar’s tactics are often questionable -- he films a weeping teen who asks not to be on-camera and a woman who appears to be trawling for tricks, as well as a girl surreptitiously stuffing her chador in a knapsack. I‘m not sure that any of us have a right to these images -- but neither, as with Kandahar, could I look away.
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