Ed Wood (Burton, 1994, B+)
A remnant of a time when Burton was still capable of making films that expressed human emotions, full of nostalgia for the simpler times of the past — the perennial state of Hollywood in any era — and, like Wood himself, genuine love for the medium. Depp’s performance is all pizzazz but it’s Martin Landau’s heartbreaking performance that elevates this stylized romp to something sublime. No wonder that the film’s final minutes falter so roughly in his absence.
Hamoun (Mehrjui, 1990, A)
What a glorious mess! Mehrjui’s divorce drama — made as he was going through divorce himself — is incoherent, full of unnecessary subplots and characters, and with a butchered ending that the censors forced on him. Yet, it remains one of the most entertaining, rewatchable films that Mehrjui directed. As a groundbreaking film that became a box office sensation, as a time capsule for the Iranian upper middle of that era, and as the film solidified Khosrow Shakibai’s status as Iran’s biggest post-revolutionary star, Hamoun is an essential film for any fan of Iranian cinema. The socio-cultural significance of this film cannot be overstated.
Close-up (Kiarostami, 1990, A)
The perfect marriage between Kiarostami’s realist storytelling and the roots of his filmmaking in documentary cinema. That such a simple event can be turned into an enduring and complicated tale that challenges ideas of morality, identity, artistry and cinematic creation is a testament to the director’s genius.
Where Is the Friend’s Home? (Kiarostami, 1989, A+)
This is a masterclass is creating the cinematic where seemingly nothing exists. Kiarostami is at his most playful and humorous here, and not in the formal sense: Friend is genuinely funny and, in non-critical lingo, incredibly adorable.
Mad Max (Miller, 1979, B+)
Tonally jagged, but powerful within individual scenes. Mad Max‘s storyline is tired — though that might be unfair to the film, given the time of its release and the number of films it has inspired — but Miller is an expert at staging action sequences.
Hamoun (Mehrjui, 1990, A) (event)
A breath of fresh air in the post-war atmosphere.
About Elly (Farhadi, 2009, A+)
This is Farhadi’s best film, and the best Iranian film of this century so far. Riveting and endlessly rewatchable.
Amour Fou (Hausner, 2015, B) (link to review)
“In Hausner’s deft hands, the comedy makes the existential exercise even more challenging, forcing the audience to ponder awkward truths beneath the chilly humor.”
The Traveller (Kiarostami, 1974, B+)
One of Kiarostami’s most openly political and critical films, and unusually classicist in construction. An indictment of social inequality and the failed school system in the final years of the Pahlavi era, packed with a stronger emotional punch than most of the auteur’s output.
Downpour (Beyzaei, 1971, A-)
Several rounds of censorship have left the film with truncated rhythms and some confusing subplots, but Beyzaei’s groundbreaking romance possesses timeless tenderness and superb performances, and remains one of the only pre-revolutionary mainstream films in which the middle class protagonist was a realistic portrayal of his real life counterparts.
A Simple Event (Saless, 1974, A)
Amir Naderi has dubbed Sohrab Shahid Saless the Godfather of Iranian cinema and A Simple Event the most important Iranian film ever made; there’s good reason for that. The blueprint for sparse, richly detailed, child-centric, socially critical and formally rigorous storytelling that has now become synonymous with Iranian cinema was drawn by Saless here; and its monumental influence aside, A Simple Event is an incredibly moving experience on its own terms.
Water, Wind, Dust (Naderi, 1989, B+)
Naderi yet again composes a finale of sheer force, but much of what comes before it is an exercise in patience. Water, Wind, Dust was a staggeringly difficult film to make as it takes place entirely in a sandstorm but it’s production mirrors the resilience of its character.
The Runner (Naderi, 1985, A)
Although regularly selected among the greatest Iranian films ever made, The Runner‘s appeal had eluded me upon several visits. Watching the film’s 35mm print on the big screen for the first, I have finally given in to its brilliance. It is overwhelmingly powerful and visually stunning, with a central performances that is heartbreaking and heartwarming in equal measure. The visceral force of the film’s finale overcomes the stuttering pace of the second act, leaving us with a feeling of utter elation in the end. A truly cinematic experience.
Mean Girls (Waters, 2004, A)
Not a single shred of its wit, sharp humour or shrewd politics has been taken away with the passage of time. Lindsay Lohan’s performance is one of the best in American high school films, all young promise but mature control, lending the…um…plasticity of the film a human warmth. This is one of the most rewatchable and quotable films of the century.
Still Life (Shahid Saless, 1974, A+) (podcast)
Saless’s film is a delicate, poetic, bitter and powerfully real masterpiece. One can watch and rewatch this film, speak and write about it endlessly and still not fully convey or grasp the sensation of watching its lyrical, absorbing splendor. A truly marvelous experience on the 35mm print, too.
The Night of the Hunchback (Ghaffari, 1965, A-)
What a wild ride! Totally bananas! Ghaffari’s screwball inspired comedy about a hunchback actor, whose body after he is accidentally killed by his fellow performers becomes a major dilemma in passing hands, is surprisingly funny and sharp. A classic case of a McGuffin crime mystery, The Night of the Hunchback provides an incredible window into Tehran’s upper society. It’s a must watch for audiences who are only familiar with arthouse Iranian films.
Haji Agha, The Movie Actor (Ohanians, 1933, B+)
Accompanied by the improvised live music at TIFF Bell Lightbox, this oldest surviving Iranian film was quite an experience. It’s a film about cinema and its relationship to Iranian society, which makes this an extremely prescient work both formally and thematically. Ohanians’s film suffers from poor production values in certain parts, to which the passage of time has not been kind. Yet, its swift narrative beats and still resonant story make it a film far more accessible and enjoyable than its billing might suggest.
The Cow (Mehrjui, 1969, A+) (link to essay)
Dariush Mehrjui’s film, one of the most significant, influential films made before the revolution in Iran, is an experience that only improves over time and with each repeated screening. The National Archive’s new restoration of the film is a gorgeous print that brought out previously unnoticed details to the fore.
P Like Pelican (Kimiavi, 1972, A-)
Kimiavi’s films are early examples of the brand of fiction/documentary fiction for which Iranian cinema went on to be globally recognized. By tapping into the psyche of an old man who’s created an alternative universe in his mind, Kimiavi has made a documentary film — or has he? — that is in and of itself a figment of its character’s imagination. Harsh, delicate and liberating, often all at once within the same frame.
The Night It Rained (Shirdel, 1967, A+)
What a senstaion it is to see an all time favourite film on the big screen for the first time. Shirdel’s energetic, riveting and hilarious look at a sensationalized media frenzy in a small village in northern Iran is one of the best documentary films ever made. It challenges the flexible definitions of truth in journalism and documentary filmmaking, and slyly observes tendencies of self-aggrandisement, deceit and heroism in Iranian culture.
Only Image Remains (Akbari, 2014, N/A)
“Akbari’s video essay on the traveling retrospective of Iranian films provides worthy contextualization, not just for this specific series, but also for Iranian cinema as a national and transnational enterprise.”