This is a direct exemplar for the legacy WJEC Film Studies A2 course. If you want to find out more about Iranian cinema check out Shane Smith’s Vice documentary. Vice Guide to Iranian Cinema
By comparing the cinematic styles used in the films you have studied for this topic, is it possible to identify a distinctive “national cinema?”
- Response to restrictions
- Social realism: Ayatollah
- New Wave
- Ambiguous endings
- Ambient sound
- Cultural status
Whilst the three Iranian films Offside, Taste of Cherry and A Separation all are products of the same post Islamic-revolutionary cultural context they also do demonstrate similar aesthetic qualities.
In terms of a national cinematic style of cinematography all three favour hand-held or highly portable camera rigs shooting mid-shot and close-up action. This gives the films a sense of verité and fits with the way that both Panahi and Kiarostami wish to blur the lines between documentary and drama. To this end Offside is filmed at the real event it intends to dramatize and Taste of Cherry, like Offside, utilises non-actors. It also allows the films to use vehicles as portable studios (possibly to circumvent restrictions – this is a feature of all the films studied and the entire basis for Kiarostami’s film 10). A similar use of rig is present in Fahardi’s film which lends the film a queasy, slightly unbalanced feel which adds to the unexpected tension in what, at first, appears to be a domestic drama. Farhardi also makes good use of the car-as-portable-set motif. As the film progresses the audience become aware that A Separation is subverting the normal mannerisms of the thriller genre but in a domestic, and down-beat, way. Nader, the central male character, speeds after Termeh’s teacher in a near parody of a Hollywood car chase.
What can be therefore seen is that the Iranian films studied utilise the techniques of two European styles, New Wave and Italian Neo-Realism. Neo-Realist films made use of non-professional actors, just like Panahi and Kiarostami, and focused on the trials and tribulations of ordinary people. Iranian cinema is dependent on the good-will of the Ayatollahs and it is notable that, according to Shane Smith’s 2013 Vice documentary on Iranian cinema, the reason that film-making was allowed to survive in Iran was due to the Ayatollah Khomeini’s fondness for the 1969 movie The Cow. The film is socially-realist in the way it grapples with real people and their problems.
Therefore cinema which attempts to explore the social divide between groups in Iran has the highest blessing. This is clearly evident in Offisde’s schism between the Tehrani “smoking girl” and the country soldier from Tabriz, the way the middle-class Mr Baadi encounters characters who are all marginalised in some way and the clash between the middle-class protagonists of A Separation and the working -class Hojat and Razieh. Italian Neo-Realist stylistics (use of real locations and real people in the background) are present in all three films studied (notably as the First Girl enters the stadium in Offside, in the opening scenes, where Mr Baadi searches through the labourers in Tehran, of Taste of Cherry and in the street scenes of A Separation.
New Wave cinema is more experimental in approach, especially in editing, and therefore narrative, approaches. A Separation pays homage to New Wave discontinuity in its use of jump-cut when Nader pushes Termeh out of the flat, to recreate an event, only to have a police officer stumble out at later, un-signposted, point. It also makes use of cheap and simple, New Wave style, framing techniques to comment on the action. The audience regularly see characters through windows which enhance the sense of separation and Nader is often framed near a picture of a native American chief (a comment on his hubristic pride). The film also makes use of lengthy, New Wave style, single shots (such as the opening P.O.V. shot of Simin and Nader, casting the viewer in the role of a judge in true tragic-drama style). Taste of Cherry is similarly discontinuous when it jumps to Mr Baadi speaking to Mr Bagheri and it makes use of New Wave sensibilities when it indulges in self-reflexivity at the end. The film reinforces its status as artifice when it jumps to video stock, thus changing both the colour palette and image quality, and shows the crew at the end of the film. This is there to destroy the suspension of disbelief in a New Wave manner.
The ambiguous ending of Taste of Cherry is similar to the other two films. A Separation leaves the viewer in the corridor awaiting Termeh’s decision and Offside has the girls escape into the crowd which leaves the poor soldiers without their charges. All are at pains to avoid conventional resolutions. Other stylistic features that they share include avoidance of musical soundtrack (all three favour ambient sound which enhances the documentary feel of the films). This may well be due to the restrictions placed on Iranian film-makers however both Taste of Cherry and Offside make use of subtly subversive music at their ends. Panahi uses a pre-revolutionary patriotic song and Kiarostami daringly includes American funeral Jazz (Louis Armstrong no less) in a finely judged move against the restrictions on “joyful music” (according to Small Media’s analysis of Iranian censorship).
All three films share a tone and use of symbolism which seem to mark them out as belonging to a national cinema. This symbolism is present in A Separation, as mentioned before, but is also evident in the tracking shots of the Range Rover as it winds its way through the dusty wasteland of Taste of Cherry and the caged women in Offside. There is clearly a sense that cinema has a duty to engage in deep moral, political and philosophical issues (the status of women, social cohesion, marginalization, suicide, truth and tragedy are all explored) but the pacing of the films also often means that the audience is left to simply reflect on theme, character or imagery (as in the mining equipment in Taste of Cherry). This may be a reflection of the deep Persian culture of literature and visual-art which has existed for two and a half millennia (one of the oldest in the world). The films studied clearly are produced for more than either entertainment or box-office success and so the most striking part of an Iranian national cinema may be actually the importance attached to the process of making film as an artistic product and the status of the director as auteur in Iran.
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