Madame Bayaz has screen memories
We were at a profound and spirited honoring ceremony in the presence of the great
Caribbean poet Kamau Brathwaite, when my Persian hypochondriac darling turned to
me and said, "I'm quitting cosmetics for good." She, the one who religiously
comes to my neighborhood to do her weekly manicure continued, "I mean, I'm even
thinking of quitting nail polish and cuticle cream altogether. There are just too
many chemicals to have to consider, you know. And all this infertility in the 30-something
generation is statistically related to chemicals. That's what they say. And I tend
to believe them."
I like her too much to respond with my staple carefree "Oh whatever..."
so instead I suggested a product. "How about something organic like Aveda?"
I realized, then, in the midst of Barthwaite's impassioned recital of "the drums
are addressing you..." that our charmed existence is so at odds with the quotidian
dreams of those who live the "nation language". The existence of those
young girls who dream of the day they can show a little pink on their toenails as
they wander about a smog-filled city under a hot, worn and tattered hijab. What bridges
the gap between them and us, I wondered? What makes us all Iranians?
And it was then in a thundering moment of inspiration that I remembered another conversation
at an outdoor café where Maryam's
US-born film director, Ramin Serry, exchanged words with the novelist Manoucher Parvin
about living the 1979 hostage crisis in the US. Ramin, was too young to remember
too much and Manoucher too much of a poet to not fabricate a memory on behalf of
all of us. But it was in the recollection of images and news clips that the two artists
found common ground. Images... as bridges?
Serry's film, as I see it, functions to bridge the gap between those who live the
"nation language" and those of us who don't. It does so in its recollection
of images. Screen images, in particular, in the truest Freudian sense of the word.
That is images that make childhood memories alibis for unspeakable desires and imaginings
developed at a later age.
In Maryam, a
young, religious convert, Ali, arrives in suburban New Jersey after the Iranian revolution
to live with his secular Iranian-American uncle and his wife and daughter, Maryam/Mary,
in the period spanning the Shah's hospitalization on the 17th floor of a New York
mid-town hospital. And it is in this period that the rage that Ali feels about the
tragic death of his activist father under the shah's ruthless force, SAVAK, is translated
into screen memories, literally fabricated images couched as childhood recollections
of his uncle killing his father in their familial Tehran home.
Put yourself in Ali's place. The death of your father turns you into a political
activist, and the passing of your religious mother turns you to the Koran. What you
become is the perfect national subject under the Islamic Republic, but not as a function
of its ruling ideology per se. Would this configuration of your psyche allow you
to enjoy the carefree pleasures of a roller rink in the New Jersey suburbs, I wonder?
Your Maryam movie-stars, darling Aries, caution you. It's a time of reflection, now.
And a time for you to understand where all the fear and the rage is rooted. My guess
is that it's the function of the familial, rather than the political as you so stubbornly
Imagine being the phone that communicates a protective Iranian father's words to
the suburban American teenage boy, Jamie, on the other end of the line over the dinner
table in Maryam. "You want to talk to Maryam? Talk to her at school tomorrow,"
her father barks. What would it take for you to redeem some agency of your own? What
would it take for you to slip out of his hand and fall close enough to Maryam, so
that she can talk to her puppy love? I suggest that instead of regurgitating this
month, Taurus, that you in your birthday month, become slightly more slippery. Remember
these words of wisdom as the month runs its course: The only path is not the straight
and narrow especially not in communication issues.
A simple and oversized yellow ribbon around the Foshay tower in Minneapolis signifies
the US condemnation of the hostage taking in Iran. In Maryam,
this brief flash of newsreel, recalls the fervor with which the US showed support
for its national subjects in Iran. A support that condemned all Iranians, everywhere,
for acts of a few on the national soil. If the film does anything to evoke your inner
emotions this month, Gemini, it is to suggest that your approach be a little less
categorical. Put the yellow ribbon in your hair instead and skip the preaching and
the judgement as you play hopscotch down your suburban alley.
There's a glare on Maryam's car window that provides the transition from the
blue hued scenes of Ali's childhood to the present of the New Jersey suburb. You're
that glare this month, Cancer, that light that balances the past and the present,
providing the shades of colorful transition in between. Simply try to still the voices
that speak from beyond the grave and try to focus on the presence of the living.
Things might get too complicated otherwise.
In the women's bathroom, American teenagers tease Maryam for not being allowed
to put on make-up. They laugh at her bushy eyebrows and suggest that she should get
rid of that giant caterpillar on her upper-lip that shows up on screen when she reports
the news on the school's cable TV. The oddity of this all is that Maryam quite obviously
plucks her eyebrows as does Ali, and she is clearly not as hairy as one could be
given Iranian genetics. Such misperceptions of you are in the works this month, Leo.
Although, come to think of it, they're not misperceptions at all. They are simply
fabrications. I encourage you to call people on it. Start a fight. And why not?
The ironic dichotomies that shape your life this month appear as a montage in
the opening sequence of Ramin Serry's Maryam.
Here, images of the Shah with his oversized 70's glasses drinking wine with Jimmy
Carter and Ayatollah Khomeini on the plane back to Iran from Paris and then hugging
and kissing a little girl after his first ceremonial speech at Beheste Zahra, images
of Iranians in transit living at odds with their quotidian lives are cut to The Cars'
"Good Times Roll". What brings you closer to these images though, Virgo,
is the retrofit of the 70's sequence. You may be living in 2002, but you sure dress
like you were living in the 70's. According to the Sunday New York Times you're a
decade behind. Go shopping for heaven's sake! Go shopping and relieve us of the sight
When Maryam goes on her first date with Jamie at the skating rink, she takes
Ali with her. It is a party of sorts and given his Iranian ways, her father insists
that the two of them take a gift. Maryam, who's quite concerned about her father
changing his mind about her outing, rushes into the house and grabs a bag of pita
bread. Ali shares this bread with two stupid American drunks at the rink. They offer
him some hashish but Ali turns them down. The boys find it funny: "Hey that's
what the cleaning lady says, too: I don't do da-rugs." Funny. Your racial slurs
are making every one laugh this month, Libra. But I have to tell you, that's bad
Ali is angry! Angry at the Shah. Angry at SAVAK. Angry at his uncle. And he blames
everyone of them for killing his father. When his uncle refuses to participate and
sees no reason to go after the Shah, who's after all feeble and in bed at a hospital
in NY, Ali screams at him "You're a weak man and your raised you daughter to
be a whore." Shocked, Shohreh Aghdashloo who plays Maryam's mom, slaps Ali straight
across the face. Frankly, this is her best performance in the film. It might be yours
too this month, Scorpio, don't stand for injustice and slander. You can always opt
for violence. Will you?
Thursday nights in Tehran pack the pizza shacks with families craving that something
extra that rice and stew just doesn't provide: Pizza drizzled with ketchup on top,
Persian style. In Maryam,
Maryam takes her cousin, Ali, to a pizza shack and tells him that what they're going
to have is just a piece of bread with tomato sauce and cheese on top. Ali, responds
by commenting that they have pizza in Tehran, too. Oh, I guess we hadn't realized
that?! What he doesn't know, is that what he's had is a meager national variation.
Nothing compares to New York style pizza and the nominal conjunction doesn't bridge
that gap. The moral of the story, you ask? Taste is where it's at for you, this month,
Sag. So channel your energies accordingly.
In the film, Reza, one of the young men in Maryam's circle instructs Ali, her newly
arrived cousin, in the art of dating women. Reza recommends the chics in English
literature. They're the hotties. I have no doubts about that. Try to score this month
by getting your inspiration from books, Capricorn. Drop math. Math won't pay off
in the end.
The scenes that show the young Ali as he watches his father bleed to death on a backgammon
board are shot with a blue filter in Maryam.
We would know that these scenes are Ali's memories of his childhood without the excessive
blue hue, but the blue exaggerates the fact with excess. That's your deal this month,
Aquarius: excess. Just know that we, your audience, would get the point without that
little extra trick. As for the rest, that might be your pleasure. And your pleasure
is what you will, no doubt, insist on. Well, La-di-da!
Much has been said about Mariam Parris awesome performance of the Iranian Jersey
girl, Maryam, in Serry's film. But the most stupendous part of the performance is
perhaps her ability to cover over the British accent and play the part of and Iranian-American
suburbanite who is capable of balancing an act that blends the part of a dutiful
Iranian daughter with the fun loving and frivolous American teenager. Your star this
month, Pisces, is all about hiding a core while playing out the dichotomies that
make you who you are and it doesn't sit well with you. I suggest that you just act
out! Everyone else will be!
To contact Madame Bayaz write to: email@example.com