Wherever a powerful and conservative theocratic class exists–no matter what specific religion is involved–a struggle for change is unavoidable if a country is to modernize. Concepts of modern democracy and human rights emerged in Europe after a similar violent struggle. Had clerics prevailed in the West the scientific and industrial revolutions may not have occurred either.
I suspect modernism will triumph in the muslim world too but the conflict may be more bloody considering the modern weapons available, the unique tactics (suicide bombing of civilians as a form of intimidation) and a similar lack of scruples among ultraconservative clerics. Finally, that class benefits greatly so long as the Israel/Palestine conflict remains unresolved. Otherwise the masses might be alienated more quickly.
“Bliss,” a new film from Turkey, highlights the dilemna of a country on the threshold between old and new ways. In Turkey people start with the advantage of having a democratic government in place. By contrast, Iran is ruled by reactionary clerics backed by a Praetorian Guard with powerful and deeply vested economic motives for resisting change.
A sheepherder’s daughter is the victim of an “honor crime”; her chastity lost brutally, her sentence in the small Turkish village of her birth — dictated by tradition, demanded by the village’s most powerful man — is death. Her inability to carry out her suicide leaves the village with a problem it must solve.
Cemel (Murat Han), a young soldier just back from the front lines and a distant cousin, is handed the task of taking her to Istanbul and disposing of her. When Cemel finds he doesn’t have the stomach for this killing — at least not yet — a slow rebirth for Meryem begins, while a disquieting awakening descends upon Cemel. If he can’t kill Meryem, he will have defied his father, yet another unforgivable sin.
As Betsy Sharkey, LA Times film critic writes, “The Turkish film is daring for its unsparing look at a subject that still tears at its people. It is one of the divides remaining between an advancing culture and a generations-old tradition, between urban and rural ways. But being daring alone is not enough and in Oguz’s good hands “Bliss” offers us a great deal more.”
In Iran, ultraconservative rulers would simply do the job themselves. For this reason, I imagine the film would be banned there. By contrast, I suspect it would be popular with folks demanding human rights and a modern democracy. If the Soviet Union couldn’t keep out smuggled DVDs, I’m sure the Iranian government will have its hands full with a film like this. See:
1. “Osama,” the older Afghan film about a girl who struggles to survive by dressing as a boy is quite tense. Many Iranians who might have overlooked this film when it originally came out, will likely find it both fascinating and timely after events since June 12th because they’ll seen some of their own problems reflected in it.
Since the Iranian government had problems with the Taliban and since it has no problem with allowing unaccompanied women in the streets or in the schools, it might ordinarily find this film acceptable IF NOT FOR THE ENDING and what it seems to imply about the corrupting nature of political power on the clergy. See the film to grasp what I mean and recall how once poor Taliban leader Mullah Omar wound up with a nice palace for himself.
2. The Kite Runner (Afghanistan): This one I haven’t seen…yet…but my wife recently read the book and found it outstanding. Recent revelations of prison rapes under Khamenei–something he encouraged long before the current crisis–that targeted males as well as females make this film relevant to Iranians living under an Islamic Republic that sanctions and then covers up such crimes.
THE ROLE OF FILMMAKERS IN ENCOURAGING CHANGE AND HUMAN RIGHTS
In Iran, ultraconservative clerics program young teenagers with reactionary education and then use these supposed automatons against human rights demonstrators. The most effective strategy to undermine this tactic is to encourage a counterculture, especially among the young. Along with political satire, exposing such youngsters to poweful films can provide an infectious antidote to regime brainwashing. Both have a very direct appeal to the young.
Having observed he formation of a youth counterculture of protest in America during the sixties I suspect the pattern will be similar in Iran. Opposition to government policy started first at elite schools such as the Ivy Leagues, then to other private colleges and even state colleges and eventually to high schools which had been oblivious to such protests originally. At the same time, young people became more radicalized and political opposition to the middle class and then the working class. You can see the same process underway in Iran.
It’s amazing the kind of talent Iranian filmmakers and actors have show despite the many restrictions. Imagine what kind of films they might produce outside Iran’s borders. Perhaps that is why the regime has been seizing the passports of actors, actresses and directors as well as reform politicians and human rights demonstrators.