BFF 2017 Curator’s Notes – “Iran: Surrealism and Theocracy”
Before each of the films made in Iran, there is an obligatory statement “In the name of God.” After that prayerful introduction, expect the unexpected.
The language of metaphor employed by artists to express the ineffable becomes especially crucial to expression under theocracy, where there is also a strictly enforced code of the unspeakable. Surrealism takes things a step further, distancing the world represented and the world to which it refers. This inspires viewers to question reality while perhaps running afoul of the authorities it surreptitiously challenges.
Perhaps this is why, pound for pound, no other country submitted quite so many surreal and surprising works as Iran. These included the most fully realized animated works, some of which are included in this film series. When we say surrealism, think more in terms of filmmakers like Gilliam and Jodorowsky, not painters like Dali and Varo. There is something sinister, dystopian at work even when one isn’t sure precisely what is happening.
Interspersed with these surreal visions are frank windows into life in the provinces of Iran that provides a key to understanding more abstract works. For instance, when one sees the suffocating tribal justice at work in Nargol, one can more easily understand why the woman in ball cock would isolate herself. Meanwhile, the melancholy and unsettling death march of Downfall snaps us back to present events, the sense that we are inexorably marching toward a shared doom if we cannot find a common humanity first. It’s timely material from start to finish, and especially important given the ever increasing tensions in the Middle East, our own nation and region.
Films in this series
- The Campnile
- ball cock
- Building No.13
- White House