Friday, February 3, 2017

Festival of Films from Iran

Billed as the longest running showcase for Iranian cinema in North America, the 27th annual Festival of Films from Iran begins February 4th – 25th at the Gene Siskel Film Center, where each weekend audiences will see films highlighting modern day Iranian culture.

With a total of seven films being presented during the festival, the event will kick off with screenings of “Lantouri” (2016) and “Me” (2016), while later in the month, also pay tribute to the late filmmaker, Abbas Kiarostami, who died last year. Kiarostami was perhaps the best known of contemporary Iranian filmmakers to Western audiences. His Palme d’Or winning drama at the Cannes Film Festival, “Taste of Cherry” (1998), will be screened on February 17, 18 and 19 as well as a screening of a documentary featuring the filmmaker, “76 Minutes and 15 Seconds with Abbas Kiarostami” (2016), which will be followed by a discussion of the filmmaker’s work with film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum and professor and author Mehrnaz Saeedvafa in attendance. 

According to the Barbara Scharres, Director of Programming at the Gene Siskel Film Center, it was Saeedvafa who approached her with the idea of the festival. Now, 27 years later, Scharres says of Iran “this is a nation and a culture that is unfamiliar, largely misunderstood, and often maligned in the U.S.” Yet, through cinema and its ability to show audiences other cultures, this can change.

Here are mini-reviews for movies to be screened opening night.

Directed and written by Reza Dormishian, the young filmmaker’s fourth directorial effort, “Lantouri” is a smorgasbord commentary on various social injustices endured in Iran, women’s rights, anti-intellectualism, censorship and criminal justice. It may have been better served narrowing its scope focusing on one specific issue or using an Altman-esque interconnected storyline featuring multiple characters, each confronted by an injustice, nonetheless “Lantouri” is an entertaining and socially aware film.

Starring Maryam Palizban as a persistent journalist driven by criminal justice reform, also named Maryam, who meets an activist and agitator played by Navid Mohammadzadeh, who loves her from afar. Depending on whose version of the story you are hearing Maryam may or may not love him back, leading to both of their downfall.   

Using a mockumentary format within an unrequited love story, sometimes it feels as if the conventions of the love story interfere with the social message. It is only until the last 40 minutes of “Lantouri” that it makes its greatest point, remarking on the power of forgiveness and the retaliation laws used in Iran’s courts, which only lead to more violence. 

Screening February 4th @ 6pm and February 5th @ 4:45pm

If “Lantouri” shows us the ugliness of a society on the outside, then “Me” shows us what happens in the shadows.

Azar (Leila Hatami) is a go-to person on all issues concerning the black-market. Need a fake passport? Azar can help. Need to get out of military duty? Azar can help. She even exports alcohol in water bottles. She is by all measures a fascinating character. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t do enough with her.

There are subtle moments when male figures question Azar’s authority over them suggesting as a woman she is a bit out of place but Azar is a fighter and puts the men back in their place. Meanwhile there is building suspicion authorities may be on to her with spies all around.

The threat of this however never escalates into rising dramatic tension which ultimately creates a weak second and third act for “Me”. Hatami dominates the movie with her screen presence and whatever entertainment value derives from watching it is a result of her performance.

As for a social critique, first time director Soheil Beiraghi, paints a portrait of the limited roles available for women in an oppressive society.  

Screening February 4th @ 8:15pm and February 5 @ 3pm