Its Oscar night. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is a prestigious organization, but it is also hairy, humongous and old, therefore seems destined to function a bit behind the times, sometimes. I’m not a member, so it’s only a guess, but I doubt the academy serves predominantly as a conservative boy’s clique. Give the art more credit than that.
After all, three previous Oscar best pics were directed by a Mexican and an African American. A Taiwanese/American was honored in 2013, and a woman, as recently as 2010. This is not to say there’s no room to broaden. Thank heaven there are lots of diverse moviemakers out there, not waiting around for little statues. Our film commentary this month focuses on an Iranian-American, feminist director’s first feature, “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” (2014).
I’ve chosen a random selection of three motion pictures with which to begin our section on Iran, in our series entitled, Films of Our Enemies. Two of these titles were filmed in Iran and one is from the U.S. We’ll review the most recent, first, because it sucks us right in. Let’s begin with a little background. The filmmaker was not born there, nor does she live in Iran, but her ancestors did. Actors speak Farsi. The main character wears traditional head gear, and the principle cast is all of Persian descent.
Films discussed here are the mirror image of their makers and what cooler tool could there be to acquaint us with a person from the other side? In her movie, Ana Lily Amanpour offers a rare view of Iran. Her lens focuses on an imaginary Tehran, not a literal one, but hinting at something we have in common. Otherwise, why would we watch?
It might be said, that “A Girl Walks Home Alone in the Night” is less about modern day Iran than the other two. I doubt it could have been made in that part of the world, under current conditions. So, it does not reflect its surface, accurately, but it may, ultimately, offer a clearer commentary of Iran than we first behold. One notable phenomenon this project demonstrates that the other two Iranian directors could not, is what remarkable potential, an artist free from state control, can unlock.
It might seem repulsive to the cultural establishment of that country, that the imaginary Tehran portrayed in this piece is populated with prostitutes, junkies and pimps, but every country has its misfits. Even if Ms. Amanpour’s story exaggerates the scope of these epidemics, inside Iran, we can be confident that the social order there is as flawed as our own, resulting in alienation and degradation of a certain percent of the folk.
On the other hand, “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night,” seems quite close to the heart of Iran, in the way that it deplores how materialism corrupts the soul. The illusion of success, represented in the iconic american sports car, the fluctuating value of some classy jewels, the false sense of security afforded to a hooker’s fleeting beauty, are all predicaments owing to its parasitic presence in this girl’s world. The action takes place in an oil boom suburb, where consumerism is the real succubus. The vampiress serves a sanitary role, gliding solo, on her skateboard, under street light, head hooded, like a vulture, beneath the sun. She’s attractive as can be, but less a sexy beast than unsung holy woman, cleaning up after the evil one.
In style, this movie owes much more to the graphic novel than to gothic lit, and, apart from its superb soundtrack, is not much composed with the traditional arts of Persia in sight. Instead, it draws on such a diverse batch of pop cinematic references as German Expressionism, the Spaghetti Western, Gangster and Horror genres and “Fantomas.” What an exciting new vein on that robust artery of genius already nourishing us from the East. What a great starting point to delve in to our subject. This dark butterfly of fate may have been hatched in the psyche of a modern Iranian feminist, but it takes wing in some fantasy, pan-cultural cosmos of alienated youth. One thing I’ll say is, it’s a fine thing whenever diverse cultures mange to cross-pollinate.
Global cinema contains truths that cannot be practiced in a batch of orthodoxies, nor perpetrated on a population through numb belief. Truth is a moving target. It requires the finer faculties to be followed. No party can lay exclusive claim. No border can fence it in, or out. Even the simplest person has equal access, yet, even the most vigilant minded cannot always figure it out.
While stories in the Bible and Koran are enlightening, those and others like it were doomed to become instruments of deception. Fortifying orthodoxy by blindly adopting doctrines, simply cannot provide us with all we need to know, or do. A work of cinema can be just as misguided and slave making as a book, to be sure, but can also come closer to invoking the word made flesh, because its always being renewed. Film is a migration of light, continually on the move, transforming with the times.
It is no secret that the truth is the fact with which we most interact, but it takes personal responsibility and constant commitment to see what you see, know what you know, and feed it your pure intent. Truth can’t be confined to one person, place, or thing. You discover it in each moment, sometimes in the stillness, other times in the noise. Where it is found is always changing, along with how it applies. That little bit bothers us. We want to think, once we’ve comprehended something, we’ve conquered ignorance for good and our enlightenment is assured. Nothing of the sort.
Maybe that is why fine film always seems to be drawing new boundaries between right and wrong, but if you look closer, they echo common sense. At the same time, fine film never tells us what to think. It funnels our awareness down to shade and sound, allowing our authentic responses. Consequently, ironically, that very private seeming screen space, provides infinite common ground.
If we harken back with nostalgia to less materialistic times in America, weren’t we holding precious the same basic ethics as modern Iran? Isn’t it possible they are simply attempting to prevent consumerism’s runaway spread in their homes? It would be going backwards to try that, in our country; next to impossible, to get our virginity back, but Iran’s folk haven’t slid all the way down that slippery slope, yet.
The rigid rhetoric of their government, while often portrayed as fanatical, in our press, is expressed in proportion to the degree of pressure they feel to conform from the West. It may not look right to us, but we could be just as bound, by faith, to an illusion, as they seem to be to theirs. Why dislike them for wanting to not get caught in materialism’s fangs? Can’t we respect someone that resists?