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.
This is not exactly a PC comment, but by the last time that cell phone rang I was praying that it would blow up. Ugh...this was a difficult film for me to watch.ReplyDelete
My experience with Kiarostami is that he loves to repeat actions in his films. It becomes sort of its own environment.ReplyDelete
I just... love this one. But then again, I love Kiarostami. There's so much here - the commentary on feminism in particular was something I latched onto deeply. There are few men in the story other than our main character. His boss is a woman, he calls his MOTHER, his neighbors are all women, the young girl you mention, the poet he quotes to her is a woman - and we compare the strength of these women with the relative lack of a backbone our main character has. Then the whole nature vs. civilization argument...ReplyDelete
I'm really not normally one for enjoying the types of movies Kiarostami's flicks can be sorted into, but man... I really dig his stuff. It's hypnotic - slow on the surface, but peel the layers, and holy cow for all kinds of earthy, meaty goodness.
I don't disagree. He is very much a poetic filmmaker, and the more I see of him, the more I see in him, if you know what I mean.Delete
I admit that at times the constant repetition gets to me, but at other times, I understand it. The constant repetition of the same event is very much a piece of real life, and a piece of real life poetry in that sense. I guess, like you, I find him fascinating.
Good review. I happened to see this a couple days ago and it was the first film of his I had watched. I admit I chuckled each time it showed the guy driving up to the hill to talk on the phone, even though normally I don't like it when a joke is beaten to death.ReplyDelete
In regards to the woman milking the cow, I believe it is also Iran's restrictions on filmmakers that prevented her face from being shown. In connection with another Iranian film I saw recently (White Balloon) a commenter on IMDB said that Iran does not allow adult women to be filmed in their homes. To get around this filmmakers often set scenes outdoors (notice in this film just about every scene is outside his room), or by having young girls in the film (as in the example of White Balloon.) The director probably was making a point about not being allowed to show the woman's face since even though where the cow was was not a "home" it was still close enough to not be able to take chances.
I wasn't aware of this, but that makes sense. There's no doubt that Kiarostami is comment on something here. I'm not sure it matters if it's his inability to show the girl's face or a comment on the difference between the modern world and the traditional one. He's a smart enough filmmaker that he can make this comment without getting himself into too much trouble.Delete
However, as I think of other Iranian films I've seen, this inability to see adult women in their own homes holds true. It's certainly true of Through the Olive Trees and Gabbeh to mention two that I've seen relatively recently.
For whatever reason A Separation (2011) does not have this restriction. In fact, the large majority of the film takes place in a family's apartment. Perhaps the restrictions have been relaxed recently.Delete
I'll be rewatching, and most likely reviewing, this film in a couple of weeks, so all I'll say for now is that you're right about the collision of the urban and rural worlds, but I think is just a part of a larger function for the film.ReplyDelete
That doesn't surprise me, honestly. I probably need to watch it again to get much deeper than the surface, at least on an intentionally deep filmmaker like Kiarostami.Delete
Hypnotic is a good word for this film, and indeed Kiarostami's output in general. They are a particular type of film, almost anti-Hollywood in their slowness, much more like the observational, non-judgmental filmmaking of Ozu. And I am a sucker for shots of beautiful landscapes, and there were plenty here!ReplyDelete
I'm not sure Kiarostami made a lot of films. I think he made a lot of visual poetry disguised as films.Delete