Mohsen Makhmalbaf – Nassereddin Shah, Actor-e Cinema AKA Once Upon a Time, Cinema (1992)

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In this meditation on the history of cinema, contemporary scenes blend with clips from the silent era. A cinematographer (Mehdi Hashemi) consults with the shah of Iran (Ezzatollah Entezami) in an attempt to convince him that cinema is beautiful. Movies are censored, however: the shah bans them himself. But when the shah falls in love with a beautiful silent-film actress (Fatemah Motamed-Aria), he forfeits the throne and crosses into the realm of the movie screen to be with his love. Continue reading

Mohsen Makhmalbaf – Scream of the Ants (2006)

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Plot Synopsis from allmovie:
As a newlywed couple boards a train bound for India and are forced to reconcile atheism and faith in director Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s spiritual-themed drama. He is a non-believer that is consumed by doubt, and she has faith that life’s answers will come to her through prayer. Though there is little that this newlywed couple can agree upon — including the prospect of having children — they do love each other and are intent upon sharing a spiritual honeymoon. In the midst of a philosophical debate, a holy man on the tracks forces the train to grind to a halt. While the local beggars revere the man for his power over the imposing locomotives, the truth is much less mystical. Years ago the man failed in committing suicide on the tracks when the oncoming train saw him and slowed down. These days he is compelled by the beggars to reenact the “miracle” daily so that the train will stop and they can collect alms from the passengers. Continue reading

Mohsen Makhmalbaf – Dastforoush AKA The Peddler (1987)

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The Peddler
An impressive, often powerful Iranian feature (1987, 95 min.) by Mohsen Makhmalbaf—who started out as an antishah activist and fiction writer—composed of three sketches dealing with the poor in Tehran (1987). The first, freely adapted from an Alberto Moravia story, follows the appalling misadventures of an impoverished couple with four crippled children as they try to get their fifth and latest child adopted, in the hope that she won’t wind up crippled as well. The second follows the equally pathetic life of a scatterbrained, spastic Jerry Lewis type who devotes his life to caring for his aged and senile mother. (The couple from the first part reappear briefly in this episode.) The third part, shot in film noir style, is largely devoted to the grim fantasies of a clothes peddler who’s afraid of being killed by fellow traffickers. Each episode has a different cinematographer and all are shot very adroitly and fluidly, though the more self-conscious stylistics of the third part sit rather oddly with the first two episodes, which are often much closer to neorealism. According to Makhmalbaf, the film as a whole deals with the three stages of existence—birth, “journey through life,” and death. Critic Gerald Peary has compared the film to Rossellini’s Paisan, and it’s certainly true that the first episode is as wrenching as anything in that film or in Germany, Year Zero. In Farsi with subtitles. By Jonathan Rosenbaum
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Mohsen Makhmalbaf – Arousi-ye Khouban AKA Marriage of the Blessed (1989)

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Review by Jonathan Rosenbaum
A 1989 film by Mohsen Makhmalbaf about the upsetting discoveries made by a shell-shocked veteran of the Iran-Iraq war after he returns to his job as a photojournalist in Tehran and to his fiancee, the daughter of a wealthy merchant. As in The Peddler, Makhmalbaf shows considerable talent and passion for dealing with the contradictions of contemporary Iranian life, and the restless and eclectic style of his direction makes this one of his most penetrating and disturbing works. In Farsi with subtitles. 75 min.

This one is also on Rosenbaum’s top 1000 list. Continue reading

Mohsen Makhmalbaf – Safar e Ghandehar AKA Kandahar (2001)

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Quote:
Filmed on the Iran/Afghanistan border, KANDAHAR is a semi-documentary style movie that chronicles the perilous journey undertaken by an expatriate female journalist, Nafas, to reach the city of Kandahar, where she hopes to rescue her sister from committing suicide during an impending eclipse. However, Nafas’s odyssey is really little more than a device to lift the veil on the poverty and hardship of life in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

Through a series of vignettes, the movie succeeds beautifully in revealing insights that are both fascinating and harrowing. It is almost impossible to imagine a culture so far removed from the relatively comfortable life enjoyed by more ‘civilised’ nations. Young boys rock back and forth, reciting the Koran while learning to become Mullahs, pausing only to recite the meaning and purpose of the sabre and semi-automatic machine gun when prompted by their teacher; young girls have lessons in how to resist the temptation to pick up possibly booby-trapped dolls; a doctor treats his female patient by speaking to them via children as they sit either side of a makeshift screen, and conducts his examinations through a small hole in the screen; the threat and consequences of land-mines pervade everybody’s life, and year-long waits for prosthetic legs are commonplace, so that prosthetics become a black-market currency. Continue reading

Mohsen Makhmalbaf – Nun va Goldoon AKA A Moment of Innocence (1996)

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Quote:
Analyzing the intricacies and variances between differing film titles is something of an indulgence for film critics, especially when they’re searching for a quick, utilitarian lead into otherwise complex films. Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s film à clef revisitation (or, rather, a cinematic palimpsest) of a violent 1974 encounter from his past as an angry young fundamentalist went by the title A Moment of Innocence in its European and American releases, but its original Farsi title was actually Bread and Flower. The latter title refers to the two objects that play into the all-important remembered event, when Makhmalbaf stabbed one of the Iranian Shaw’s policemen in an attempt to snatch his gun away, an attack that led to the future director’s incarceration. (Makhmalbaf hid his knife under a circle of flatbread; the policeman was holding a flower he intended to offer the entrancing young girl who, unbeknownst to him, was actually a decoy intended to distract the cop so Makhmalbaf could steal his firearm.) Some 20 years later, while a reformed and de-radicalized Makhmalbaf was directing Salaam Cinema, the now former-policeman approached Makhmalbaf again, their meeting (and triggered memories) spurning A Moment of Innocence, a title of which seems to echo the film’s aura of reflective enlightenment and mutual cooperation between the two men (as opposed to the Farsi title’s emphasis on the fragmented multiplicity of memory). Continue reading

Mohsen Makhmalbaf – Gabbeh (1996)

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Quote:
Gabbeh is a brilliantly colorful, profoundly romantic ode to beauty, nature, love and art. Mohsen Makhmalbaf originally traveled to the remote steppes of southeastern Iran to document the lives of an almost extinct tribe of nomads. For centuries, these wandering families created special carpets – Gabbeh – that served both as artistic expression and autobiographical record of the lives of the weavers. Spellbound by the exotic countryside, and by the tales behind the Gabbehs, Makhmalbaf’s intended documentary evolved into a fictional love story which uses a gabbeh as a magic story – telling device weaving past and present’ fantasy and reality.
On the banks of a stream, an old woman and her husband are washing their Gabbeh. From this carpet comes forth a beautiful young woman – aptly named Gabbeh – who shares her epic tale: she is desperately in love with a mysterious horseman who follows her clan from after. Though her father has agreed to let her marry the man, season after season, the horseman follows Gabbeh—always present, always waiting, howling songs of love after nightfall.
Delicately interlaced with this simple and touching love story are the people whose lives are shaped by the rhythms of nature, and who instinctively express the joys and sorrows of life through song, poetry, and the tales they tell in their brilliantly-hued weavings. Continue reading