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Tales of Kish

Daily Variety May 17, 1999

Privately financed by investors on Iran's free-zone Island of Kish in the Persian Gulf, "Tales of Kish" was originally produced as a six-episode omnibus film. Cannes selectors chose only three episodes for the version screened in competition. Each one is autonomous, following only the producers' instructions that the story be set on the island, so presumably no overall plan was violated by chucking out half the material. But this rather extraordinary festival re-editing left the shorts by three top directors, Bahram Bayzai, Rakshan Bani-Etemad and Dariush Mehrjui, on the cutting room floor.

The film may be released in complete form at some later date, allowing interested viewers to fill in the blanks. In its Cannes incarnation, "Kish" is colorful, exotic, metaphoric, pleasant and rather inconsequential. Opening piece by veteran helmer Nasser Taghvai ("Captain Khorshid") is called "The Greek Ship," after a rusty wreck stuck offshore. A poor man and his wife live in a reed shack on the beach in front of it. To embellish his home, Shanbeh (Hossein Panahi) has plastered it with the remains of cardboard boxes washed up on the shore.

The packaging for international brands, from JVC to Kodak and Fuji, sets off his wife's (Atefeh Razavi) deep-seated phobia of foreigners. He takes her to an exorcist, who tells Shanbeh to choose between cardboard and his wife. Without flashy camerawork, Taghvai makes his point about the difficult coexistence of Kish's cultural traditions (illustrated in a long exorcism ceremony with chanting and drums) with the modernity brought from abroad.

"The Ring (An Order)" comes out of the Iranian documentary school. Director Abolfazl Jalili ("Dance of Dust," "Dan") gives a delicate, matter-of-fact description of a Kurdish student who comes to Kish to earn money for his studies. Living alone in a beach shack and pumping gas for passing trucks, Hafez Pakdel (actor's real name) leads a lonely but resourceful existence, catching fish and doing his job. In a touching finale, he dips into his savings to buy a wedding ring for his sister's husband-to-be.

The story's honest simplicity is reflected in Massoud Karani's camerawork and Jalili's subtle editing. Most memorable of the trio is Mohsen Makhmalbaf's closing episode, "The Door." The striking folkloristic visuals of his recent features "Gabbeh" and "The Silence" here dissolve into the pure simplicity of a white desert traversed by a door. The antique wooden door is carried on the back of a man (Mohamad A. Babhan) who has sold everything he owns and now moves around the desert with his veiled, black-robed daughter (Norieh Mahigiran) trailing behind him, leading a reluctant baby goat.

The surrealistic scene takes on comic overtones when a postman on a bicycle knocks on the door and the man opens it. He tears up the first letter, from a servant who has fallen in love with his daughter, and refuses to accept the second, from his estranged son. He tells a group of lost traveling musicians he's looking for peace and doesn't know "who's alive and who's dead," but in the end all his efforts to flee his humanity appear of no use. He can't sell the antique door, or the memories he carries. The richest in meaning, this tale takes Makhmalbaf's stylistic experiments a little further into metaphoric terrain and closes pic with beauty and humor.


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