Rob Edelman: New Iranian Cinema, Part 2
CLOSED CURTAIN, a pointed, highly political allegory scripted and co-directed by Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, is momentarily set for theatrical release here in the U.S.
This clever film involves a writer, played by Panahi, who arrives at a secluded seaside haven. The only living thing in his presence is his pet pooch, and that is just the way he wants it. Indeed, the only living thing the writer trusts is his dog. Why? Because a dog is undyingly loyal. A dog does not cause trouble. A dog does not ask questions. But then it is announced on television that "dogs are impure; they will be banned." The writer's pet is cute and lovable, and a wonderful companion. Yet for no reason, it would be killed, murdered by government decree. Next, two intruders, a young man and woman, enter the house and encroach on his solitude. They tell the writer that they are being tailed, and are in great danger.
CLOSED CURTAIN is layered with meaning as it ponders the impact of restrictions on individuals in general and artists in particular in contemporary Iran, not to mention the impracticality of avoiding oppression in any restrictive culture that is ruled by all-powerful forces. In such societies, individuals live in states of paranoia-- justifiable paranoia-- and even sweet, innocent pet dogs are not immune. Also, in CLOSED CURTAIN, Panahi explores the creative process and the fine line that may exist between what is real and what is created or imagined. The key here, cinematically-speaking, is not what is said but what is implied.
While CLOSED CURTAIN will be earning theatrical exposure in the U.S., certain questions arise: How commercial viability is this film? Can it, as well as others that are subtitled and that deal with serious themes, ever enjoy successful theatrical runs? In this regard, one of the most highly lauded films of recent years may be cited: A SEPARATION, directed by Asghar Farhadi, a quietly powerful Iranian drama about a family in crisis that was released in 2011. A SEPARATION featured all the ingredients that one might assume would result in big box office. Aside from being an exceptional film, what makes it so special is that it explores issues that are common to countless families, irrespective of nationality.
Happily, A SEPARATION did not go unnoticed during its time in theaters and at film festivals. It was universally lauded by critics. It was a Best Foreign Film Academy Award winner, and it also earned a nomination for Best Original Screenplay: a rarity for a non-English-language film. It was honored by film organizations as diverse as the International Cinephile Society, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences of Argentina, and the Guild of German Art House Cinemas, not to mention film festivals from across the globe and film critics groups from Boston to Kansas City to London.
We live in an era in which a "hot" Hollywood item, or, a "franchise film" that is based on a marketable source-- for example, a best-selling novel or comic book or graphic novel-- might pull in $30-million or $50-million or $70 million or more during its first weekend in release. Let's contrast this to the box office take for A SEPARATION. According to the Internet Movie Database, the film earned a bit over $7-million during its entire U.S. theatrical run.
For the average person, $7 million is not chump change. But within the motion picture industry, it is a pittance.
Rob Edelman teaches film history at the University at Albany. He has written several books on film and television, and is an associate editor of Leonard Maltin’s Movie and Video Guide.
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