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Lonely Songs and Still Lives at UCLA’s Celebration of Iranian Cinema

Song of Sparrows

The late, great and criminally underexhibited Iranian (and later German) filmmaker Sohrab Shahid Saless once commented that, for him, loneliness was what animated his art and the cinema of his 1970s generation. At that time, Saless’ fellow young artists endured the jackboot of the Shah’s regime, which tolerated radical filmmakers like Saless — but only to a point. Many, including Saless and Dariush Mehrjui, fled into exile even before the more extensive suppression of art and speech by the ruthless Islamist “republic’s” Supreme Council. Today, Saless is gone, Mehrjui slogs away making minor films, the Supreme Council is still in business, and the theme of loneliness in its personal and social forms is back in Iranian cinema.

This is the overarching concern of the films selected for UCLA’s 19th annual Iranian survey, which marks a rebound from last year’s disappointing crop. Certainly, Saless would have heartily approved of Panahbarkhoda Rezaee’s contemplative A Light in the Fog, which seems directly inspired by Saless’ early masterpiece, Still Life. Just as Saless enveloped the viewer in the humble, day-to-day existence of a railroad clerk and his wife, Rezaee views the quiet lives of a war widow and her infirm father, whose only remaining wish is for his daughter to remarry. Inside their home, the staging and lighting are out of a Dutch Masters painting; outside, in mountain landscapes forever shrouded in fog, Rezaee creates something beautiful out of states of solitude.

The same distance from others infuses Saman Salour’s Cannes Directors Fortnight entry, Lonely Tunes of Tehran, a droll, occasionally goofy piece about two guys who install (illegally) TV satellite dishes on the roofs of upscale northern Tehran condos. At one point, the pair’s only friend admits, “I really miss myself,” which could also be said of the wistfully sad, unfortunate ostrich wrangler in Majid Majidi’s Song of Sparrows — one of Majidi’s most successful films and the only one in the UCLA lineup to have U.S. distribution — and also of a wandering grandmother, her frazzled daughter (Niki Karimi, Iran’s top female actor) and aimless granddaughter in Manijeh Hekmat’s 3 Women. This is less the case with 7 Blind Women Filmmakers, a collection of short works by blind women, who, though often alone, feel sure of themselves around a camera and with their personal identities. Lonely hearts cross paths in Rouhollah Hejazi’s evocatively filmed Among the Clouds, which uses the Iran-Iraq border as a medium for impossible love and frustrated connections. UCLA Film & Television Archive at the Billy Wilder Theatre at the Armand Hammer Museum; thru Sat., Feb. 21. www.cinema.ucla.edu.


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