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Sprint Long Distance


Sehaty Foreign Exchange


September 12, 2000

Conspiracy theory -- again

It's very interesting to read the letters in response to the article "Not THAT good" ["Bubble gum cinema", "Film du jour"]. Ah the conspiracy theory again. Those bad Westerners exoticizing Iran, robbing us of our cultural riches, etc. etc. And of course if European and American film festivals had not paid any attention to Iranian films, there would have been another conspiracy at work, that of silence.

I agree with most of "Not THAT good", heck I wrote a piece for this magazine a year ago ["Layers of meaning"]stating the exact same points. Iranian cinema is not the only national cinema "discovered" by the West in the past 15 years. The Chinese cinema has been showered with more praise, and that includes Hong Kong film makers like John Woo and Wong Kar wei, Taiwanese filmmakers like Edward Yang and the main land filmmakers.

A big part of this is the decline of European cinema's presence in North America, caused in large by the emergence of the so-called Indies in the United States. It's very hard for foreign films to do well in the U.S., hence marketing the exotic, the unknown is essential. And remember that this is a niche market, consisting of urban intellectual and other chance taking souls, not the stuff of suburban movie complexes.

The other part of the story is the politics of cinema. European festivals have always been very political in their anoiting of certain films with their honors (remember that Cannes was created in response to Fascist Italy's domination of the Venice film festival). Winning at the Cannes doesn't make "Taste of Cherry" a bad film, however, even though I'm sure left wing politics played a role in it.

But the same could be said of "Pulp Fiction" winning of the Palm D'or when the Jury was headed by Clint Eastwood back in 1994. Politics is definitely at play when it comes to Smaira Makhmalbaf. In all fairness I haven't seen either of her films, but from a distance she comes across as a project of her father's. She is an ideal pin up for Western media.

Young, talented, pretty (doesn't she cute with her piercing dark eyes and fashionably placed veil framing her intense face) daughter of a famous director. No wonder United Colors of Beneton sponsored her last film. None of the above makes a bloody difference however if the films are any good.

I have heard people call Kiarostami a charlatan because in their view he panders to the Western media. And maybe he is, but making films, because of the amount of capital involved even in no budget efforts like any of his films require salesmanship. If Kiarostami thinks he should launch his films in Europe rather than Tehran, then all power to him.

To repeat a tired old cliché, we live in a global village. Yes, there is over praise and idiotic hyperbole. Kiarostami has made two, maybe three films which are great films. True he has spawned a whole group of filmmakers who basically make Kiarostami-like films, which are at best interesting and often, like The White Balloon, look tired in second viewing.

The French New Wave also spawned the same wave of second and third rate imitators too. In the Sixties, European cinema was littered with bad imitations of Goddard and Chabrol. But Novelle Vague created some very good films, and so has the recent cinema in Iran (no comparison intended).

What is certain is that in spite of the limited number of films shown in the West, and in spite of over-praising and ludicrous adulation of the "exotic primitivism" and censorship and etc., etc., Iranian Cinema and the film culture in Iran is probably in better shape than it was 20 years ago and that's a good thing.

Asghar Massombagi


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