Finally the Iranian movie, “Marmoolak” (Lizard), opened in San Diego. It had been advertised for some time. Having viewed a photo essay in iranian.com and listened to raving reviews from friends, I could not wait to see it. I went to the matinee show on its first day.
Word had not gotten around yet, few people showed up. So I think the fact that I laughed so hard had nothing to do with the atmosphere in the theater. (In fact, I had a feeling I disturbed the American couple in the next row who were trying to decipher the subtitles.) I laughed so hard, my jaws began to hurt.
It occurred to me much later, I could not remember the last time I had laughed, really laughed. Long gone are the days when Iranian gatherings used to revolve around laughter. We told jokes, shamelessly imitated Turkish and Rashti accents, and made fun of all walks of life. Alas, no more of that. We are so politically correct, ethnic jokes have lost their flavor.
With the major changes in politics, Iranian jokes took a sharp-and witty-left turn. Alas, that too had to end soon. People found it hard to laugh at such painful issues. In the end, serious talks about the economy, corrupt governments, and war replaced the jokes, which in turn made our gatherings less fun. So much less, I stopped to attend all-together. I convinced myself that my halfhearted laughter was a byproduct of aging.
Then came “Marmoolak” to tell me, you really never know. It brought back memories and tickled nerves that I had forgotten I had. Was it the clever scenario? The believable acting and witty dialogue? Or, did the familiar setting make it so enjoyable? Was I plain homesick?
I thought about it for a while. I would go to see it again, but why? With so many good films-most of them far better than this-I was never tempted to see anything twice. To be honest, I felt embarrassed. Then it dawned on me. It had to do with what is considered a basic rule of democracy: The pursuit of happiness.
With no sanctions, no prejudice-at least none against me, for a change-and no restrictions, I could laugh all I wanted. I could laugh at my own people, at my own culture and at memories I had buried so deep that only such a marmoolak could unravel.
It was as if with each laughter a slogan was shouted out: Hey people, look at this. This is me, and that's exactly what happened to us! We were as innocent, as naive, and as hopeful. We thought God had sent us help to put an end to our misery. We wanted to be closer to God, but we also wanted justice and mercy for all.
You see? We weren't stupid. The clergy weren't particularly smart either. They just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
When the lead actor did his public prayer, I laughed remembering my broken prayers as a youngster. I remembered failing religious studies and being stuck in Arabic as a second language. I laughed at lies told to a people, deception, women's oppression, and injustice. I laughed a laughter that had been as overdue as the film itself.
In the end, I realized the film had brought to light my own forbidden thoughts-not to mention words. It felt good to know there's nothing wrong with me. I may be getting older, but I can still laugh. It isn't a lost art. It comes back when life gives you something to laugh about, even if that “something” is as bitter as this.
I enjoyed that laughter the same way one enjoys the opening of an infested wound, the release of a painful pressure, the exhale of a breath held for too long.
Zohreh Khazai Ghahremani is a freelance writer, poet and artist. She lives in San Diego, California.
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