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The drifter
Travelers in Bahram Bayzaie's work

By Kayvan Alikhani
June 24, 1999
The Iranian

I am only if I am moving,
If I stay, I do not exist.

-- Rumi

During the Iran-Iraq war in 1985, while studying for the college entrance exam at Farhangsara-ye Niavaran in Tehran, a friend asked me if I was interested in seeing a play by some art school students there. It was "Arash-e Kamangir", an adaptation of one of Bahram Bayzaie's plays.

I was deeply moved by the play. I screamed in my car all the way back home. I couldn't sleep. Later I learned more about Bayzaie's work and became a devoted fan.

The same year, I saw "Davandeh" (The Runner), probably one of the best movies ever made. Bayzaie helped Amir Naderi write and edit this tale of a young boy struggling to survive in Khuzestan. Even though the hero of the film lives in Abadan, he's a drifter and a stranger in his own world. I bought the poster for the movie and hung it on the wall over my bed.

When Bayzaie's "Bashu Gharibeh-ye Kuchak" (Bashu, the Little Stranger) was released in 1987, a whole bunch of my friends and I slept in the ticket line overnight outside Azadi theater (much to my father's dismay) and saw the movie as it premiered in the Fajr Film Festival. The reaction was unbelievable. Standing ovation again and again...

A three-year-old could probably understand what "Bashu" was all about, yet layer upon layer, the genius film-maker of our time built a moving and complex story to illustrate war, immigration, clash of cultures, humanity, bonding, racial voices, and love.

The tale is seen through the eyes of both the hero (Bashu) and the mysterious hostess who later elegantly bridges the cultural, racial and behavioral gaps between them. Bashu, traveling not by choice, but because of the war, is thrown into another world and the story is his voyage. In the heart of all of this, Bayzaie finds a way to show us the mystical countrywoman who talks with birds. And it all fits like a glove.

Then I had a chance to see "Ragbar" (Thunderstorm, 1972). I cried, and thought, and cried. This time the traveler is Mr. Hekmati, a sincere, hardworking teacher who moves into a conservative and poor neighborhood of Tehran to teach third graders.

This emotional story evolves into a sophisticated commentary on decadence, individual socialism and later an incredible love triangle involving Mr. Hekmati, a beautiful girl and a butcher. Towards the end of the film, I felt as if I was living in that neighborhood, could feel the walls around our traveler, and smell the fresh bread in the local bakery. And I fell in love with the girl too.

Oh slippery fish!
You have lost your sense of certainty.
In lakes of truth
I am the dam of clarity.
With the magic of love,
Through the narrow paths of truth,
find your way to me.

-- "Maahi" (The Fish), Ahmad Shamlu

The sense of chaos and uncertainty is evident in most of Bayzaie's works. In "Arash", a well-known Persian myth is transformed into a chaotic battle, not on the battlefields, but within Arash's mind and soul. The same is clearly visible in his phenomenal and critically-acclaimed movie, "Marg-e Yazdgerd " (Death of Yazdgerd, 1981).

I thought I had seen it all, I thought I had figured out what Bayzaie was all about. But then a friend of mine gave me a copy of "Gharibeh va Meh" (The Stranger and Fog, 1975) on video. Once I saw it, an incredible thing happened. I didn't get it.

The feeling was different from watching a Bergman movies. I liked it. I could relate to it. But it challenged me to watch it again and think again. One of Bayzaie's most complex stories, Gharibeh is about a wounded soldier who drifts to an unknown land. Again, not by choice, to search for his identity and lost sense of self. He explores the land and rediscovers himself through his presence in this strange place. And then he drifts away.

Like the fish in Shamlu's poem, certainty dawns on you and the hero for brief moments, then slips away. This pattern is evident in many of Bayzaie's works.

Love needs its martyrs
Needs its sacrifices
They live for your beauty
And pay for their vices
Love will be the death of
My lonely soul brothers
But their spirit shall live on in
The hearts of all lovers

-- "The love thieves" by Depeche Mode

In 1992, "Mosaaferaan" (The Travelers) was released. The film tells the story of a wedding turned tragic by the death of a young couple on the way to their wedding. As the story unfolds, the victims' ghosts guide and haunt the living. They appear and complete the missing pieces in this coming-to-terms-with-death movie. Love is born between the families of the victims. The story line is unique and touching. The same pattern is seen in "Shaayad Vaghty Digar" (Maybe Some Other Time, 1988).

As time passed, I saw most his movies, read almost all his plays and then I moved to the U.S.

A couple of days ago, seven years after I left Iran, I was looking at a listing of events in San Francisco's Bay Area and ran across an ad for "The 8th Voyage of Sinbad", a play showing in Berkeley. I couldn't believe it.

At first, I was hesitant to see a low-budget adaptation of Bayzaie's work. But I was pleasantly surprised. The work was mature and the acting was brilliant. It tells the story of Sinbad who travels back home after a thousand years of running from himself. Sinbad transforms from a disillusioned beast that sacrifices his friends' lives in search for the truth. He now has to face destiny. Sinbad, who's lived his life through quests for knowledge and happiness, is now forced to confront death, the most terrifying voyage of all.

I wonder where Bayzaie will go next. I have not yet seen his new film, "Ghesseh-haay-e Kish" (Tales of Kish). I would love to sit in a theater and watch it. Preferably in Tehran. Preferably with Bayzaie.

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