Jul 9, 2014

World Cup Soccer: Through the Eyes of a Tibetan Lama and an Iranian Dissident

Reading about the World Cup matches recently, I was reminded of an interview I did in 2000 with Khyentse Norbu, the only filmmaker I know of who is a real Tibetan lama. His film, The Cup, is about monks obsessed with the international match. Norbu’s take is so delightful, and timeless, I thought I would post the interview in the hope that fans who missed its limited theatrical release might look for it on DVD. A PDF of the interview can be found in “From My Archives” to the left of this column.

My review of The Cup appears here: http://www.filmjournal.com/filmjournal/esearch/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1000697408
Maryam Moghadam, who plays Melika in Closed Curtain, had her passport confiscated by the Iranian regime, along with writer-director Kambozia Partovi (Cafe Transit, 2005), after they attended last year's Berlin Film Festival to accept the Silver Bear (for best screenplay) on Jafar Panahi's behalf. (Photo courtesy of Amplify Films)

Offside (2006, on DVD and streaming) is another unusual World Cup film, written and directed by Jafar Panahi, an Iranian filmmaker whose work I admire. It is about the excitement an important match inspires in Tehran, and is perhaps the only soccer movie about female fans. A group of young women disguised as boys, in the hope that they can deceive guards, attempt to gain entrance to the stadium. Iranian girls and women are forbidden to attend sports events, even if they are accompanied by male relatives. The women’s ruse is discovered and they are detained; young security guards, equally disappointed not to be inside watching the game, are told to keep them penned in an area outside the stadium where they can only hear the shouts of the crowd.

My review of Offside can be found here: http://www.filmjournal.com/filmjournal/esearch/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1003555993

Offside is a clever indictment of Iran’s theocratic state, yet it is Panahi’s most optimistic film. Like so much of his work, including The Circle, the subject of my 2001 interview with him (see link in “From the Archives”), the movie is banned in his home country. Panahi, who is accused of creating “propaganda” against the state, is now prevented from making any movies in Iran, and from traveling outside the country. While it is a less severe sentence than other socially conscious artists have received in Iran, it is nevertheless unconscionable.

The unnamed writer and his dog in Jafar Panahi's Closed Curtain sit before a window that suggests Iran's darkened movie theaters. The movie will open at Film Forum on July 9th. (Photo, Courtesy of Amplify Films)

The filmmaker has managed to defy the ban with This is Not A Film (2011), a documentary shot inside his Tehran apartment, and Closed Curtain (2013), a conflation of fiction and documentary, shot at his seaside home, which will open at Film Forum in New York City on July 9th. A link to my review of Closed Curtain appears under “Film Reviews (Online),” to the right of this column, and my review of This is Not A Film can be found here: http://www.filmjournal.com/filmjournal/content_display/esearch/e3id540457eab6376406a4d826262d6c725

This still from Closed Curtain is of Panahi arriving at his seaside home. The film is an unusual mix of documentary and fiction, and an eloquent expression of the writer-director's despondency over the filmmaking ban Iran has imposed on him. (Photo courtesy of Amplify Films)
Watching Panahi’s The Circle again recently, I found that I still flinch at the brutality his women characters are subjected to, first by the state who incarcerated them for crimes Panahi never names, and then by their families who reject them, or try to kill them, after they are released from prison. Women can be arrested in Iran for smoking in public, and unmarried girls and women for being in the company of a man who is not a male relative. At the end of The Circle, Panahi brings us “full circle,” to a prison cell, where we hear the guard call out to Solmaz. Solmaz is the name of Panahi’s daughter. She acted in that film, and has been representing her father for a few years now, attending screenings of his films abroad, and accepting awards for him. One hopes that Panahi and his daughter will soon be free of the “circle” that imprisons them, and so many other Iranian artists.

 The official trailer for Closed Curtain is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qQyU7dpuLl4&feature=youtu.be