film from Iran
won the best “first film” award at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival. It portrays
a 20-year-old Afghan emigrant, Djomeh (Jalil Nazari) living across the
border from Afghanistan, in Iran, looking for “love” and working as a
milkman, His boss, Mr. Mahmoud (Mahmoud
Behraznia) has not yet married at the age of 40,
and there is a curious conversation in a pickup truck between the two about marrying
age for young men (is an unmarried man not a “man”?) Later Djomeh
makes bicycle trips to the next
village, a spectacular little dominion with stacked adobe buts and entrances
dug right into hillsides, supposedly to buy food (like my buying records at
that age) but really to court a young lady. His involvement of his personal
life in his work angers his bosses to the point that at the ambiguous end, it
looks as though he might be fired.
There are passing references to Allah but relatively
little politics or religion. This is a simple glimpse of everyday life,
apparently just before the Taliban took over Afghanistan.
Veiled Appearances (2003, 94 min, Kino International, dir. Thierry
Michel, in French, English and Farsi) is an important documentary that probes
the psychology of young adults in modern day Iran.
The early part of the film looks at the idea of martyrdom (tracing back to
the 1980s Iran-Iraq war (after the release of the embassy hostages from Khomenei;s 1979 coup), which the
U.S. Navy quietly monitored all the time), that still drives many Islamic
young men (Iran
is Shiite, but the underlying concepts seem similar). In this film, martyrdom is presented as a
continuous extension of life, and that is really not in line with basic Islamic
teaching, and other sources explain that martyrdom is seen as a way to make
one’s life score meaningful in a world that offers only shame and inferior
assigned station in life (that is, lack of freedom) otherwise. In recent
years there has been modest recovery of some ideas of freedom, which
complicates the mixing of the sexes. Young women are taught that the veil
protects them. Men often show (in several shots in the film) surprising
same-sex affection in public, which seems not so much homosexual as a
reaction to the fact that women are kept at such a distance from them.
Compared to Iraq,
the major media outlets have not done a particularly thorough job in recent
years in depicting what is going on in Iran.
The situation in Iran,
however, seems to be much more difficult now for dissidents than even this
film looks, according to the PBS/Frontline special “Forbidden Iran” on January 8, 2004, by Jane Kokan, who made her documentary in clandestine fashion.