تاکسی‎‎ [2015)

This must be “Axis of Evil” week here at paulydeathwish.com 🙂

As I have stated recently to a friend.

George W. Bush was the worst President the United States has ever seen.

And Barack Obama was probably the second-worst.

So what does that make me?

Democrat?

Republican?

Libertarian?

Let’s get to that question (if you even care to know) by a circuitous route, shall we?

First, we must again praise the people of Iran.

It was long ago that I saw my first Iranian film.

Taste of Cherry.

طعم گيلاس…‎‎

[Ta’m-e gīlās…]

It was such a profound experience.

There I was.

In a movie theater in Austin.

And I couldn’t have given a shit about cinema.

But I was there.

For some reason.

God only knows why.

And I saw a movie which in many ways changed my life.

[but it took many years to sink in]

Even so, I came to regard the name of its director (Abbas Kiarostami) with a sort of awe.

Yet, I doubted.

[as we all well should]

And so I said to the cinema gods, “Let Kiarostami perform his miracle again…if he be so brilliant!”

And he did.

I was supposed to be watching Life, and Nothing More…

But I made a mistake.

Because my French is so bad.

[you know, Kiarostami died in Paris last year (may God rest his soul)]

I needed 1991, but I chose 1990.

And it was another miracle.

Close-Up.

I don’t know.

Is it…

کلوزآپ ?

Or…

نمای نزدیک ?

[“Klūzāp”?  Or “nemā-ye nazdīk”?]

Because the unfailing Google Translate (now the second-most popular “tr” search after “Trump” [as “translate”]) tells me that both terms mean “close-up”.

But who can translate Trump?

[ahhh…]

Perhaps only an Iranian?

Well, we would be in good hands if director Jafar Panahi was that man.

Why?

Because Mr. Panahi has made a film which is of the same rarefied air as the two Kiarostami films which I have referenced.

The work is called Jafar Panahi’s Taxi, and it is currently available on Netflix in the U.S.

No, it’s not a really trite game show.

No, it’s not some premise for an uncreative pornographer.

Jafar Panahi’s Taxi ( تاکسی) pushes the limits of barebones filmmaking in much the same way that the Palestinian masterpiece 5 Broken Cameras did.

[yes, I know the latter film was an Israeli coproduction…with an Israeli co-director…‎‎but the film was very much Palestinian in its inmost heart]

What our director Mr. Panahi adds to the method (budget cinematography) is an uncertainty of reality.

Frankly, I have never seen a film quite like Jafar Panahi’s Taxi.

Is it a documentary?  Is it staged?

One thing’s for sure.

If it’s staged, the injured man and his wailing wife deserve Oscars “toot sweet”!

Truly, it is panic-inducing…

Which is not true of this film in general.

No, dear eggshell friends (if you’re out there)…don’t be afraid.

Jafar Panahi’s Taxi will only take you on a “wondrous boat ride” (so to speak) for a brief, more-or-less manageable period of time.

The rest of the film is fascinating…engrossing…painfully and gloriously perplexing.

Yes, Mr. Panahi borrows Kiarostami’s favorite device:  filming from a moving vehicle.

But so what?!?

Panahi was an assistant director to Kiarostami.

And Abbas certainly wasn’t the first to film out of a car window.

But let’s examine for a moment…

Yes, the special part of this method is that the camera is turned INWARDS.

And so we feel we are seeing Homayoun Ershadi vacillate between life and death…all over again.

Or we feel we are seeing the calm, gracious mannerisms of Mohsen Makhmalbaf transposed from motorcycle to taxicab.

But what we are seeing most of all is a director stepping in front of the camera.

Like Truffaut.

And Chaplin before him.

Godard has done it to excellent effect as well.

And Jafar Panahi is like an empty reed of meditation as he navigates an unending stream of chaos which enters his faux-taxi.

But the most poignant moments are when Hana Saeidi reminds us of the childish joy of being an auto passenger…and when the lawyer Ms. Nasrin Sotoudeh addresses us…we, the watchers of cinema.

Who will watch those watching the watchers?

It’s like Juvenal in a hall of mirrors.

But Ms. Sotoudeh breaks the fourth wall and takes us to a very special place.

Prison.

And so, again, frankly:  we don’t know how Jafar Panahi’s Taxi was ever made.

Isn’t Iran one of the most intolerant countries on Earth?

Just what is going on here??

All of this Shostakovich-ean rebellion is really breathtaking when under the microscope of close viewing.

But Jafar Panahi remains stone-faced.

Like Buster Keaton.

Yet, this is largely no comedy.

This is a big “fuck you” to the government of Iran.

And yet, it is the most subtle “fuck you” ever committed to film.

Only a genius can do such things.

DSCH

etc.

Yes, dear friends.  Mr. Panahi has been banned from making films.

And yet he made one.

And then another.

And then this one.

So we salute you, Mr. Panahi.

We appreciate such in America.

To illustrate:

<–fuck you, fuck you–>, and most of all…fuck you ^

That is freedom.

It is ugly.

Messy.

But it works.

And so as a Donald Trump supporter (yes, me), I say, “bring it on, you whiny, sub-literate protesters!”

Maybe they’re right.

But it’s their right.

To protest.

And so we mix and knead.

And we need the yeast of dissent to ever grow again.

Let’s bake some goddamned bread, people!

-PD

کلوزآپ ، نمای نزدیک‎‎ [1990)

In the name of Allah…

We enter the courtroom of the world.

Cinema.

To be judged on our veracity.

But also to be judged for our passion.

Hossain Sabzian had passion.

Here.

And his story is so similar to mine.

Maybe you feel it too?

Dear cinema friend.

Because I will have to invent a new category for this movie.

Loneliness.

Hardship.

Woody Guthrie woe.

Hossain Sabzian plays himself in this story.

It is the truth.

At least as truthful as the novels of Henry Miller.

Real life.

کلوزآپ ، نمای نزدیک‎‎

The world is under the microscope.

How would Debord start his bible about the spectacle?

With that quote from Feuerbach.

A preface as preface.

From Das Wesen des Christentums.

It deserves to be repeated in its entirety.

“But certainly for THE PRESENT AGE, which PREFERS THE SIGN to the thing signified, the COPY to the original, representation to reality, the appearance to the essence…ILLUSION ONLY IS SACRED, TRUTH PROFANE.  Nay, sacredness is be enhanced in proportion as truth decreases and illusion increases, so that [*] the highest degree of illusion comes to be the highest degree of sacredness. [*]”

Those are my notes.

My copy.

My marginalia.

I could autograph it for you.

But the words are by Ludwig Feuerbach.

Having gone through translation from German to English by Donald Nicholson-Smith.

So what?

I haven’t even named the film yet.

Or the director.

Rather, I haven’t named the film in English.

Substance has been subjected to style.

Style has no translation.

Close-Up.

By Abbas Kiarostami.

One of the few geniuses in the world.

You will find on my site the review for طعم گيلاس

Who’s reading?

Taste of Cherry.

I thought that surely no film by this auteur could top that, but I was wrong.

The depth of Close-Up completely defies what I thought was possible with cinema.

It is a shock.

I am at a loss for words regarding how much this film affected me.

It is as beautiful as a bus stop.

As poor as a paper bag.

The roses from the leaf pile are a good start.

All over the world.

We play “kick the can”.

Don’t ever let people lie to you about Iran.

What is the truth?

The truth is that there is a genius there who speaks directly to my heart…like no other.

That genius is Abbas Kiarostami.

But we must mention Mohsen Makhmalbaf.

He is perfect.

It is unbelievable.

Do you know how I would feel to meet Jean-Luc Godard?

Hossain Sabzian knows.

To meet the person who gave us hope…who depicted our suffering.

Bicycleran.

بايسيكلران

Or the blessed marriage promised long ago.

We, are on the outside looking in.

Farsi mocks us.

With its beauty.

There is a lump in my throat like a piece of coal.

Do we really care about Oriana Fallaci?

Or rather Peter Bogdanovich?

Interesting that you should ask.

At first we see Haj Ali Reza Ahmadi annoyed, but later we see him as remarkably humane.

This is the Iranian legal system.

We are told it is a civil law system.

In the name of Allah.

How does a country produce such beauty?

Hossain Farazmand.

Everyone wants to be on TV.

It must be difficult to read my writing.

Who cares if you listen?

Now that IS a quote (or misquote).

Milton Babbitt.

Twelve-tone prose.

My beloved concision.

Fighting my windbag tendencies.

It is supposed to be funny.

Like Mauricio Kagel.  Or Francis Poulenc.  Or Conlon Nancarrow.

Must I mention Satie?

Yes, I must.

In the name of Hossain Sabzian.

détournement

Making the job of the DGSE almost impossible.

Ever since the Place de la Contrescarpe.

Les moineaux?  Chez Moineaux?

Trouble makers.

Like the glorious Kiarostami.

But he left us this document.

And he lives at the young age of 75.

Yet, the Situationist is Hossain Sabzian.

Like Arthur Cravan.

But more like Erik Satie.

Life?

Life is hard.

Is it like Film International?

Or like Massoud Mehrabi?

I don’t know.

But I know someone was on the same page mentally.

Because F for Fake (my second most favorite film of all time).

That is the language of cinephiles.

We’ve lost the sound.

Fifteen years ago.

-PD

.سنگسار ثريا م‎‎ [2008)

Every time I write a political post I take my life in my own hands.

Because I let everyone have it.

Out into the ether.

An equal opportunity whistle-blower.

And so I must let you know that this is almost a great movie.

Yet, I’m not even sure if it’s a good movie.

Let me explain.

The Stoning of Soraya M. was released at a very suspicious time.

By a very suspicious (and talented) director.

All through the George W. Bush presidency there was a pervasive itch…a green tide of bile just waiting to drown the country of Iran.

First we reduced one of the poorest countries on Earth (Afghanistan) to rubble.  It was mostly rubble to begin with.

Our military had trouble finding high-value targets to hit.  There were none.

Then our trumped-up intelligence hit the big stage:  the U.N. General Assembly.

Colin Powell knowingly lied.  The U.S. intelligence community was used as a pawn.

The intel was being propped beneath a faulty case like a gratis jack beneath a compact car.

Remember?  The Downing Street memo?

And so we knocked off another country.  Iraq.  The neo-con wargasm really kicked in.  No doubt the poet Ed Sanders was unsurprised.  He coined the phrase wargasm and had been documenting the demented drive of American bloodlust for decades.

And then the steamroller sputtered.

Iran was always next.

Always.  Always.  Next month.  This fall.  Imminent.

Praise be to God that the neo-con luck ran out.  Like the serial killers they are, their ability to trick and deceive abated.

And what the hell does any of this have to do with the film I’m reviewing?

Quite simply, the film I’m reviewing is perfect propaganda to bomb the hell out of Iran.

It was premiered in the final months of the Bush junta.

Perhaps the director and producers had dragged their heels a bit.

Perhaps they realized they were being used?

Perhaps…

But the story goes deeper.

Director Cyrus Nowrasteh is best known for directing a two-part ABC miniseries called The Path to 9/11.  It is “controversial”…which is to say, it is critical of the U.S. government…but only in the most kid-gloves, “oh they should have killed more Muslims” kind of way.  To reframe my argument, Cyrus Nowrasteh was already a propagandist whether he knew it or not.

And that’s where this film comes in.

Let me start by saying that the acting in this film is fantastic.  The direction is stellar (yes, the guy I was just insulting has world-class talent).

What we must ask ourselves is this:  was this film merely meant to pull on the heartstrings like a flippant Laura Bush quote about the Taliban or was Nowrasteh sincere in this unfortunately-timed release?

I believe the director was sincere.

In fact, I believe the director is the parallel of the character Ebrahim in this film.

Ebrahim is the mayor of a small town in Iran.

Ebrahim wants to do the right thing, but he is tricked.

Even so, Ebrahim is a victim of dogma.  Ebrahim’s a dumb-ass.

And yet, we respect him somewhat.

The same goes for Nowrasteh.

If my reading of The Path to 9/11 is correct, then Nowrasteh has never considered the possibility that the United States attacked itself on 9/11.  Adding further color to that false-flag would be the involvement of Israel.

One thing is certain:  it seems that Nowrasteh showed a shocking lack of curiosity when making The Path to 9/11.

Fool me once, Cyrus…shame on…

And so then Nowrasteh gets to direct this piece of cinema.  It is cinema.  But how much can we invest our hearts in a story told by a facilitator of untruths?

It pains me to discount the amazing acting of Mozhan Marnò.

And I do not discount it.

She is one of the most talented actresses I have witnessed in a long time.

The same goes for Shohreh Aghdashloo.  Tremendous thespian skills!

And Nowrasteh (whom I’ve spent “paragraphs” berating)…what a talent!

But is that talent misdirected?  [no pun intended]

I’m not cowing to Iran.

I have nothing to gain.  I have everything to lose.

This film, on its own merits, is extremely remarkable.

But taken in the context of Hollywood propaganda, it becomes suspect.

The Mullah in the film is a scumbag.

The husband is a scumbag.

The town mayor is essentially a scumbag (dupe).

There are very few subtle shadings of character here.

We end up with an unfortunate equation.

Iran = bad.

Islam = bad.

Islamic men = bad.

Islamic women = good.

The equation is begging for some stealth bombers to fill the gap and vaporize those Muslim men.  “Liberate” those Muslim women.

Come on:  we’re pros at it!  Look at our resume!!  Afghanistan?  Check.  Iraq?  Check.  This is our line of work!

We’ll give it a snappy name like Enduring Freedom (how much of our “freedom” can they endure?) and it’ll be over in a few weeks.

We’ll be greeted as saviors.

Let me point out one final detail.

There are some sub-equations here.

Shah = good/bad.

Ayatollah = bad.

And so, mathematicians of ethics, how does the SAVAK compute?

What was Mosaddegh’s good/bad rating?

All we ask in cinema is for a real story.  If you don’t pimp yourself out to the bomb boys, then the Palme d’Or is yours.

Perhaps I am wrong.

I am willing to admit that I may be wrong.

If you can’t tell by the title of this film how it ends (don’t see Titanic), Soraya gets stoned.  As in murdered. As in disgusting.

But what is most disgusting?

Hypocrisy.  The film starts with a quote by Hafez.

The corrupt Mullah is no worse than the military-industrial director.

And for those of immense talent (like Nowrasteh), there is always redemption in the next film.

Tell the real story.  Read a book.

The path to 9/11 almost certainly started in Langley and Herzliya.

One or the other.

Perhaps both.

Or was it the old boys network of Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Poppy Bush?

Somebody better get it straight or this world ain’t going nowhere good.

Help us out Cyrus!  The truth will free both our countries.

-PD

طعم گيلاس‎‎ [1997)

Don’t kill yourself, my friend.

I try to preserve the original language.

From France to Romania and now Iran.

It says Taste of Cherry.  And it is a film beyond perfection.  Directed by Abbas Kiarostami.

[if you are on a laptop or desktop it may appear to have no title…not very Farsi-friendly this WordPress]

Long ago I saw this quiet juggernaut.

If you’ve never seen an art film, you’ll know the genre when you see it.

Perhaps this was my first.

At an Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas.

How did I end up there?

More importantly, how did I end up here?

This (the latter) seems to be the vexing question which actor Homayoun Ershadi is asking himself while embodying the suicidal character Mr. Badii.

Never have I seen an actor say so much with such economy of means.

Driving around.  Driving around.

We are suffocated by the expressionless Mr. Badii.

It reaches a head (of sorts) in the quarry.  He’s had enough.

Our protagonist cannot even secure the most essential human contact.  He cannot find even a marginal friend.

We do not know his story.  It would be impossible for anyone to have complete empathy.

He is right.  Your pain is yours alone.

But maybe a miracle is waiting…

Enter Abdolrahman Bagheri.

I have never felt such emotion in a film.

It is real.  As Mr. Bagheri (his name in the film and real life) recounts his own suicide attempt we are brought into a rarefied talent for dialogue which I have only seen in Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s novel Voyage au bout de la nuit.  Hope in the midst of nihilism.  The deepest, darkest desperation pierced by humor…or humanity.

It places Kiarostami (at least in this film) as a forerunner of the Romanian New Wave.  The trappings are similar.

We see the most depressing back alleys of urban sprawl.  Gravel paths not yet claimed entirely from the grasp of the earth.

Earth.

This film is all about earth.  Dirt.  The dust of impressionism.  Concrete.

Rocks being broken up.

A man (Mr. Badii) whose only longing is, seemingly, to be dead.

Earthmovers, earthmovers everywhere…and not a load to spare.

I have never seen a film like this.

Yes, it fits into the art film genre, and yet…it forges ahead…a new path…take the fork to the right, please.

This film is a testament of hope for the Afghan people.

A testament of hope for the Kurds.

A testament of hope for the Azeris.

And, most of all, this eternal masterpiece is a testament to the genius of Iran.

May the future be as beautiful as the colors of the setting sun.

Even if that sun must piece the sadness of cranes and smog in Tehran.

I will look for the sun if you will…my dear friends.

-PD