Before the Islamic Revolution of 1979, despite facing stringent censorship and political restrictions posed by the Pahlavi regime, Iranian filmmakers used the silver screen to artfully express dissent, challenge societal norms, and shed much needed light on urgent issues. Iranian New Wave directors used symbolism and allegory as a means to convey deeply political and social messages to their audience in a time period that mind-numbing, cheesy melodramas dominated theater halls.
After the revolution, Iranian cinema underwent a humanistic, spiritual transformation, after which it gradually found its unique style of depicting timeless struggles facing humankind. In time, post-revolution cinema of the country turned into a social platform that could speak to large audiences.
Not only Iranian cinema was primarily a social one until recently, but it also carried the power to affect society in an array of ways. In this piece, we will put under examination a handful of post-revolution films that have captivated Iranian – and even international – audiences and stirred the social imagination.
1969 ‘The Cow’
by Dariush Mehrjui
Based on a story by Gholam-Hossein Sa’edi, the film revolves around a humble villager named Masht Hassan, who lives a simple life in a remote Iranian village with his beloved cow. When tragedy strikes and his cow unexpectedly dies, Masht Hassan’s world is shattered. Consumed by grief, he descends into madness and begins to believe that he is the cow, assuming its identity and mannerisms. The villagers, initially sympathetic, are taken aback by Masht Hassan’s transformation and struggle to comprehend his shattered psyche. As the line between reality and delusion blurs, the film explores the complexities of identity, mental health, and the fragility of the human mind.
1992 ‘From Karkheh to Rhein’ by Ebrahim Hatamikia
It is an emotionally powerful movie that narrates the story of Saeed, a soldier injured in the Iraqi-imposed war, who is sent to Germany for treatments. In Germany, he meets his sister and her German husband.
The sorrows of Iranian soldiers who fell victim to chemical attacks of Iraqi dictator Saddam, enabled by western countries’ support, moved Iranian as well as international audiences, bringing many to tears. The audiences were transfixed as the siblings, who have not had any relations in many years, try to re-establish the close relationship that they had long time ago.
1997 ‘Taste of Cherry’ by Abbas Kiarostami
One of late Abbas Kiarostami’s memorable movies, it follows its protagonist Mr. Badii, a middle-aged man, on a mysterious quest. Driving around, looking for someone to assist him, he picks up various passengers. When it is revealed that he plans to commit suicide and is seeking someone to bury him if he succeeds, each passenger reacts differently. Each encounter with a potential assistant reflects a different aspect of life, raising existential questions and exploring the profound intricacies of human existence. Through these encounters, the film scrutinizes themes of loneliness, connection, and the search for meaning in a world that often feels devoid of purpose.
2011 ‘A Separation’ by Asghar Farhadi
This internationally acclaimed masterpiece explores complex themes of gender, class, and justice within Iranian society. Through a gripping narrative centered around a couple seeking a divorce, the film depicts the intricacies of interpersonal relationships and the moral dilemmas faced by individuals on a daily basis in a changing society.
The movie not only resonated with Iranian audiences but also garnered worldwide recognition. The accolades received by the movie and its director filled Iranians with a sense of pride.