Geneva Anderson digs into art

Absent Iranian filmmakers deliver memorable films at the 55th San Francisco International Film Festival, through May 3, 2012

Pasandide (award winning Iranian actress Negar Javaherian) is about to be married in Reza Mirkarimi's “A Cube of Sugar,” playing at the 55th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 19 - May 3, 2012.

Over the years the San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF 55) has showcased some remarkable Iranian films and this year is no exception.  Mohammad Rasoulof’s Goodbye, Reza Mirkarimi’s A Cube of Sugar and Marjanne Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud’s Chicken With Plums are this year’s offerings— each film screens several times throughout the festival which ends on May 3, 2012.  Sadly, we’ve come to accept that it’s rare for Iranian filmmakers to make personal appearances at film festivals these days but we revel in their creativity and courage and unparalleled storytelling.  What makes the situation so fascinating is that, in present day Iran, filmmakers have no freedom of expression and yet they have managed to become central in its complex social and political discourse, to the point that they are considered serious threats by the Iranian regime.  Working under the constant threat of censorship and imprisonment has forced Iranian filmmakers to express themselves indirectly through metaphor and allegory and they have astounded us with rich stories that are about politics yet transcend politics to reveal what is intimate and poignantly familiar in our human condition.

Goodbye (bé omid é didar)(2011, 100 min)  In 2009, Mohammad Rasoulof (along with fellow filmmaker Jafar Panahi) faced arrest, a six-year prison sentence and a 20 year filmmaking ban at the hands of the Iranian Revolutionary Court, which also prohibited interviews with local and foreign media.  Goodbye, his fifth feature film, and most realistic to date, was smuggled out of Iran and made its debut at Cannes in 2011, where it won the award for best direction in the Certain Regard section.  The film is a gripping indictment of Iran, told through the bleak story of a Tehran activist lawyer, Noura (Leya Zareh), whose legal license has been suspended and who is desperate to leave Iran.  Her husband, some type of political journalist, has escaped authorities and is living low in Southern Iran.  Noura has consulted a fixer whose job it is to help people leave Iran and her pregnancy figures in her exit scheme.  As she quietly prepares to leave her homeland and aging mother, she encounters all sorts of hitches which ratchet up the suspense.  At the same time, just navigating the course of her daily life—always covered, always monitored, always explaining, always navigating tight passages and not having her husband present to authorize things as simple as checking into a hotel, we get a very good feel for the chilling lack of personal freedom afforded Iran’s educated and professional women.  Rasoulof’s previous films include Head Wind (2008), Iron Island (SFIFF 2006) and The White Meadows(SFIFF 2010).  Read ARThound’s review of The White Meadows and about film censorship in Iran here.   (Fri, Apr 20, 2012, 1:30 p.m., Sat, Apr 21, 2012, 1 p.m., Mon Apr 23, 2012, 6:30 p.m., all at Kabuki)

Chicken With Plums (Poulet aux prunes) (2011, 91 min) Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud’s drama based on Satrapi’s best-selling graphic novel of the same name which, in 2005, won the Prize for Best Comic Book of the year at the prestigious Angoulême International Comics Festival.  Satrapi, who lives in Paris, was born in Iran in 1969 but was sent by her family to Vienna in 1983 to escape the post-Shah fallout, a story she told in her acclaimed book and animated film Persepolis (2000, 2007).  Chicken with Plums is as riveting a portrait of an artist and all his brilliant and disturbing excesses that you’ll find.  Set in 1958 in post-Mossadegh Tehran (deftly filmed in German and France), the winding story captures the last eight days of Nasser Ali’s life. The virtuoso tar player (a Persian string instrument) has resigned himself to die after he runs into his old love, Irâne, who does not recognize him, and then returns home to find that his wife has smashed his prized musical instrument beyond repair.   As he miserably, egocentrically and brilliantly winds down, only his daughter, Farzaneh, his memories, and his favorite dish, chicken with plums, rouse his desire.  Imaginative sets, lighting and animation all enhance the drama. (Mon, April 30, 2012, 6:15 p.m. and Wed, May 2, 2012, 12:30 p.m., both at Kabuki.)

A Cube of Sugar (Ye habe ghand) (2011, 116 min) Reza Mirkarimi’s sublimely beautiful dramatic comedy about three generations of an Iranian middle class family coming together in the old family home as the youngest girl, Pasandide (Negar Javaherian), is about to be married.  Not everything goes as planned and it has something to do with the sweetener.  Traditional family dynamics play out as four sisters gather together to cook, sew, gossip and prepare for the wedding.  The family compound of aged Uncle Ezzatolah (Saeed Poursamimi) proves an ideal site for this reunion with its lush courtyard gardens, labyrinthine parlors and passageways, and erratic electrical system (subject to untimely city blackouts).  Mirikami captures all the proceedings with breathtaking images bathed in glowing light, accompanied by a sensual musical score by Mohammad Reza Alighouli. In 2005, Mirkarimi’s film Too Far, Too Close (Kheili dour, kheili nazdik), which he also co-authored and produced, was Iran’s selection for the Foreign Language Oscar.  Javaherian won the best actress prize in the 2010 Fajr International Film Festival for her role in Gold and Copper (Tala va Mes) (2010) and is likely to deliver a memorable performance here as well. (Sun, Apr 22, 2012, 4 p.m., Tue, Apr 24, 2012, 9 p.m., Wed Apr 25, 2012, 12:30 p.m.—all at San Francisco Film Society Cinema.)

55th S.F. International Film Festival

When: Thursday, April 19, 2012 through Thursday, May 3, 2012

5 Venues: Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, 1881 Post Street, San Francisco, S.F. Film Society Cinema, 1746 Post Street, San Francisco, Castro Theatre, 429 Castro Street, San Francisco, SFMOMA, 151 Third Street, San Francisco, Pacific Film Archive, 2575 Bancroft Way, Berkeley
Tickets: $11 to $13 for most films with a variety of multiple screening passes. Special events generally start at $20
More info: (415) 561-5000,


April 25, 2012 - Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. that was at wonderful reportage, thanks so much, wish I could go see the films. best to you and Elmo, Barbara

    Comment by Barbara Baer | April 25, 2012 | Reply

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