Sorting Through a Real-Life Meta-Mess in an Iranian Landmark
In many ways the paradigmatic work in the Iranian-new-wave Godardian-knot filmography, this unceremonious, 1996 hall of mirrors by Mohsen Makhmalbaf sticks like a koan-burr to your frontal lobe. We're plopped down, exposition-free, into a real-life meta-mess, learning gradually that a youthful MM was a terrorist-activist battling the shah's forces when he knifed a young policeman and went to jail. Now, so many years later, the cop, now retired and wanting to be an actor, shows up at one of Makhmalbaf's auditions, inspiring Makhmalbaf to make a film about the knifing and about the struggle to make that very film. The ex-cop coaches the young actor chosen to play him (he wanted to play himself, despite his age), while the cousin-girlfriend of the actor playing the young Makhmalbaf is also cast in the film (when the filmmaker's real niece is forbidden from being in the film) as the young cousin who had helped MM with the knifing years before. The cop had thought the beautiful young girl was flirting with him, and he'd fallen in love with her; the assault prevented him from giving her a flower he had brought to work, and 20 years later he still regrets not giving it to her. And only then does Makhmalbaf make the movie we're watching. The DVD supplements are minimal, but New Yorker is also unleashing The Silence (1998), Makhmalbaf's folk-arty exploration of a blind Tajik boy's strictly aural interface with the world, and Gabbeh (1996), a kind of Persian Undine (crafted after Iran's handicraft industry requested a documentary about the southeastern carpet-weaving tribes) set amid hills covered with Persian rugs, desert dunes white with snow, and caravans traveling over poppy-carpeted Omar Khayyám landscapes.
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