"Kish Stories" opens in Paris
By Bernard Besserglik
Dec 5, 1999, PARIS (AFP) - The artistic brilliance of contemporary Iranian
cinema, demonstrated at innumerable international festivals over the past
decade, is presented in miniature in Paris this week with the release of
"Kish Stories", a three-part portfolio of short films in differing
styles set on an island in the Persian Gulf.
Kish, an island about a quarter of the size of Paris, is a free port
off the Iranian coast some 300 kilometers (200 miles) south of Bandar Abbas.
The location, a crossroads between East and West, between ancient and
modern, provides a showcase for three filmmakers who, each in their own
way, show why Iranian cinema has become one of the most widely admired
national cinemas in the world.
"Kish Stories", by Nasser Taghvai, Abolfazl Jalili and Mohsen
Makhmalbaf, was screened in the main competition at this year's Cannes
Film Festival, a rare privilege for a compilation of shorts.
The central image of Taghvai's "The Greek Ship" is a rotting,
abandoned freighter, awash with cardboard packing cases bearing the names
of the world's electronics giants (Sony, Daewoo and Konica, among others)
which a couple living in a nearby hut pillage to line their home. One day
the wife develops a phobia for cardboard and has to see the local exorcist...
In Jalili's "The Ring", a young man arrives on the island
illegally to seek work so that he can save up to buy a ring for his sister's
fiance. He sets up a stall by the side of the road, selling fish that he
catches using hooks made by pouring molten lead into mussel shells...
And in the most surreal and haunting of the three, "The Door",
Makhmalbaf presents an old man who totters across the island carrying a
door on his back. A postman hurries after him, bringing two letters, one
from his daughter's suitor, the other from his estranged son. The old man
refuses both letters and carries on his way to the sea.
"The Door" is a comic visual poem, with characters from a
play by Samuel Beckett and images worthy of Magritte.
All three films are sparing with dialogue but dense with metaphor, simple
as stories but subtle in the way they skirt the boundary between allegory
and documentary realism.
They demonstrate how Iranian filmmakers have made a virtue of necessity,
devising new forms of expression as ways of evading government censorship.
The three directors of "Kish Stories" have all experienced
difficulties with the censors, in particular Jalili whose films "Dance
of Dust" (1990, winner of awards at the Tokyo and Locarno film festivals
in 1998) and "Det Means Girl" (1994, Venice jury prize) were
banned for several years.
Iranian filmmakers are barred from presenting Western-style violence
The result has been to force film directors to choose their subjects
very carefully and favor an oblique, allegorical kind of story-telling.
Despite these difficulties, and perhaps to some extent because of them,
Iran has produced a significant number of accomplished filmmakers of whom
Abbas Kiarostami, winner of the 1997 Cannes Golden Palm with "The
Taste of Cherry", is the best known, although Makhmalbaf is not far
Film production in Iran has returned to pre-revolution levels of 60
to 70 films a year, and in the past decade Iranian films have won around
300 awards at international festivals.