Fifteen prominent Iranian helmers, including past Palme d’Or winner Abbas Kiarostami, contribute episodes of approximately eight minutes each to “Persian Carpet,” an omnibus work designed to celebrate the artistry and cultural history of the country’s most famous handicraft. Unfortunately, the individual parts (some more interesting than others) are not woven into a harmonious whole, resulting in an overlong portmanteau of narrative, impressionistic documentary and animation that encompasses a lot of repeated imagery. As it stands now, the pic is best suited for domestic play and cultural events, but could decorate the schedules of foreign broadcasters after substantial trims.
The helmers’ mandate seems to have been personal expression; thus, the various segs don’t advertise or explain Iranian carpets, but rather reflect on their beauty, utility and symbolism, sometimes using other art forms such as music, poetry and architecture. Title cards indicating “first carpet” on through “15th carpet” link them.
Each seg also has a separate title card with the name of the episode, including some introductory, although not particularly illuminating, words from the helmer. Knowledge of Iran’s language and history would definitely deepen appreciation of the pic.
Rakhshan Banietemad’s “The 3D Carpet” reps one of the most captivating sections because of the unique carpet she documents, a massive three-dimensional representation of Isfahan’s fabulously ornate Naghsg-e-Jahan mosque. Woven in silk and cotton wool over seven years by 22 artists who used 83 colors and made more than 33 million knots, it stands 602 meters high and 6 meters wide with a crown of 3.7 meters when displayed, but is apparently kept rolled up in someone’s closet. Her seg unfolds as a mystery, as she unravels the tangled history of the piece.
Kiarostami’s “Is There a Place to Approach?” spotlights the poetry of Sohrab Sepehri, whose work also inspired the helmer’s “Where Is the House of the Friend?” Sepehri’s lovely verses are read aloud by male and female voices as Kiarostami’s camera explores the intricate design of an extremely beautiful Bijar “Tree of Life” carpet, spread beneath a shady tree.
Also poetic, but drawing on Abolqasem Ferdowsi’s ancient epic “Shahnameh,” Bahram Beizai’s “Eloquent Carpet” features a theatrical rendering of the text on the soundtrack as he films an extraordinary carpet with helmeted soldier heads forming part of the tree’s branches.
Beizai’s episode, like at least five of the others, also offers footage of weavers working rapidly at their looms, knotting, cutting and combing. The sound of the shaneh (the wooden tool that combs the threads tightly together) creates a rhythm as lively as the traditional music chosen for the soundtrack.
Some of the segs were shot on DV but a 35mm print exists. Screening caught in the Cannes market was a poor quality DVD.