Iranian cinema returns to Venice

Filmmakers make their mark on festival

Iranian cinema is back on the Lido and its filmmakers are not pulling any punches in the aftermath of the country’s political turmoil.

A clutch of controversial Iranian pics have been selected for this year’s Biennale line-up, including Hana Makhmalbaf’s “Green Days,” Shirin Neshat’s “Women Without Men” and Nader Takmil Homayoun’s “Tehroun.”

While Iranian cinema was preoccupied for much of the 1980s and 1990s with symbolism and allegorically cherubic children, the Iranian pics at Venice this year deal directly with the social upheaval in the country both preceding and following June’s presidential elections.

Makhmalbaf, the youngest member of the first family of Iranian filmmakers, comes to Venice with “Green Days,” a docudrama with first-hand footage from the recent unrest following the presidential elections in the country. Focusing on a depressed young Iranian woman who finds herself caught up in the tumultuous events, “Green Days” mixes real footage with staged action. Makhmalbaf had to race against the clock to finish editing her film, which she only began filming in June.

“I am not a sociologist but my film is sociological,” said the 21-year-old Makhmalbaf. “My camera works like a mirror to show you Iranian society undergoing a revolution with all its hopes and doubts.”

That examination of Iranian society at a crossroads is further continued by Nader Takmil Homayoun’s “Tehroun,” a noirish descent into a twilight Tehran populated with prostitutes, beggars and gangsters. For Homayoun, who splits his time between Iran and France, the film was an attempt to portray what he sees as a lost generation of Iranian youths living under a repressive system.

“I wanted to make a film about Iran under Mahmoud Ahmedinejad,” Homayoun said. “I wanted to show a side of Iran that was different from the normal Iranian films, which is why I chose to make a genre film. I feel that Iranian people, especially the younger generations, have been left on their own and feel cynical. It’s this feeling which explains what happened after the elections.”

Artist-turned-filmmaker Shirin Neshat makes her feature directorial debut with “Women Without Men,” a visually sumptuous feast set against the backdrop of the1953 CIA-backed coup d’etat, which led to the overthrow of popular prime minister Mohammed Mossadeq. Celluloid Dreams is handling international sales.

Neshat follows four women, who seek solace and companionship in a beautiful garden, in a film that revisits the events that would ultimately lead to Iran’s 1979 revolution and the present-day theocracy.

“With all of my work, even with my art and photography, it is almost impossible for it not to have some relation to the political situation in Iran,” said Neshat, who only locked the final cut of her pic days before the Venice fest. “It’s important for Western audiences to know about the events of 1953 and how that led to the 1979 revolution and the events we saw in June. We are seeing history repeating itself, only the players have changed. Instead of the shah we now have supreme leader Ali Khamenei and Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. What is the same is seeing the Iranian people trying to free themselves from attempts to take away their liberty.”