Format: Internet video on laptop.
When I review an Iranian film, especially one by Abbas Kiarostami, I can guarantee only that eventually James Blake Ewing of Cinema Sights will show up here eventually and comment on it. This is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because James knows what he’s talking about in general and with Kiarostami in particular. It’s a curse because he knows a crapload more than I do, so it’s also mildly embarrassing when he does. I’m kidding, but only a little—James does know his stuff and he knows Kiarostami far more than I do.
With Bad Ma Ra Khahad Bord (The Wind Will Carry Us), we get a continuation of what I have seen in Kiarostami’s work thus far. There are plenty of long takes and a story that unfolds without much regard to an actual plot. It’s simply a story, a life that unfolds on the screen in front of us. This one is less self-referential than many of his other films, or at least those that I’ve seen. There is much less commentary about the intersection of film and life here. But there is very much the sense that there is more going on here than we see on the screen.
A man (Behzad Dorani) from Tehran goes to a small rural village to stand a death vigil for a relative. While he’s there, he experiences something like a culture shock. There is a tension in this film not simply between the living village and the vigil being held, but also between the traditional world of Iran and the modern world (or at least the modern Iran) from which our main character hails. In the same way, there is a tension between the urban and the rural. A recurring them, for instance, is the necessity for our main character to drive out to a hilltop every time his cell phone rings because he cannot get any reception inside the village itself.
There’s often a real culture shock for me when I watch an Iranian film, and I think that’s very much the intent here. I find myself in the position of the film’s main character, because the reality on the screen is frequently different than what I expect. The village here looks like what I think an Iranian village should look like, and the people (especially the women) are dressed in traditional clothing (and not full burkas as might be expected). But our character is not. He wears jeans and Western-style shirts. He wouldn’t look out of place walking down a street in New York or Austin or San Francisco. For whatever reason, this always takes me aback even though it really shouldn’t.
Kiarostami, of course, is far too smart to give us anything like a resolution here or even an opinion. Instead, he merely throws the two worlds—old and new, traditional and modern—together in the same place to see what will happen. One of the most telling scenes comes when our character goes to buy milk from a young girl. The interior of the house/barn/whatever is extremely dark. As a more urban, modern Iranian, he wishes to see the girl’s face, but cannot because there is only a lantern used for illumination. She refuses to raise the lantern because she evidently doesn’t find it appropriate for him to see her face.
There are a number of repeated actions throughout the film, the main one being the drive to the hilltop every time the cellphone rings followed by the conversation with the unseen man digging a ditch. These conversations, like the encounter with the girl selling milk, are very much this intersection between the modern world and the traditional one. Both of these men are struggling against something beyond their control in a way—the digger encounters rock and must get through it with a pickaxe—but both of them continue to struggle on. There is a sense that the modern world has lost the simplicity of the traditional, but this doesn’t come across as a judgment, only a fact.
As with all Kiarostami I have seen, Bad Ma Ra Khahad Bord contains a poetic beauty, a sense of the human world intruding in a way on the natural world. Our hero sees a tortoise wandering slowly across his hilltop at one point and unceremoniously turns it on its back, leaving it to struggle to right itself, which it eventually does. In his own way, he has also upset the natural functioning of this village by his presence, but here there is a sense that perhaps things will not right themselves, that the modern world’s intrusion is here to stay. And with that, something with unquestionably be lost. For better or worse we cannot say, but lost nonetheless. There’s a poetry in that notion, too.
Why to watch Bad Ma Ra Khahad Bord: It’s funny if you go for that kind of thing.
Why not to watch: It’s also pretty insulting.