Out from Under the Mullahs

The big screen in these parts keeps getting better. For discriminating fans of fine cinema, the local independent theaters have been offering real treasures lately. Take the beautiful French-Canadian film Set Me Free at the Cosford, the Miami Film Festival hit East-West at Absinthe House, and the amazing double-shot opening at the Alliance this week -- two films from Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf. If you've been living in a cave, Iranian film has stirred excitement in international circles over the past decade, and rightly so. If you missed The Apple or Lena's Dreams, here's your chance to check out the extraordinary images coming out from under the stranglehold of the world's most infamous theocracy. A Moment of Innocence (1996) is a poetic semidocumentary based on an autobiographical event that sounds too incredible to be true, but is. As a teenager Makhmalbaf had been active in the underground trying to overthrow the Shah. During a fight with a policeman, Makhmalbaf stabbed the officer and was sent to prison, only to be released five years later, after the Ayatollah Khomeini came to power. The revolution, however, did not turn out to be as freeing as the young rebel had hoped. Fast-forward twenty years: The director Makhmalbaf is casting roles for a movie, and the policeman shows up to audition. The bizarre interweaving of their lives gave Makhmalbaf the idea to make a film about it, and in the process a film about memory and life in tumultuous Iran. He and the officer chose young actors to play themselves (Makhmalbaf picked an idealistic teenager; the policeman chose a very handsome man), and they re-created the episode as each saw it: a moment of innocence before both worlds were shattered. The Silence (1998) is fictional, set and filmed in Tajikistan (also a Farsi-speaking nation), because Makhmalbaf was tired of Iranian censorship. Tajikistan, the director has said, "feels like a lost half of Iran." The movie follows a ten-year-old boy who, contrary to the title, is not deaf but blind. He sees the world through sound, pausing (as does the viewer) to listen to conversations, music, sounds from the city -- Makhmalbaf's attempt to film the lyricism of life.


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