19 June – 3 July
The Makhmalbaf Film School was established in 1996 by post-revolutionary Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf (1957–), a key figure of the 1980s and early 1990s and a central inspiration for Abbas Kiarostami’s Close-Up< (1990). The school was positioned as part of Makhmalbaf Film House, an overarching infrastructure which also included a production arm to help finance and distribute films made under the auspices of the school and beyond. Set up in the Makhmalbafs’ Tehran house – hence the name – the school allowed its family of students to major in particular disciplines. Three students chose direction including Samira Makhmalbaf (Mohsen’s daughter, 1980–) and Marzieh Meshkini/Makhmalbaf (Mohsen’s second wife and Samira’s stepmother, 1969–). Each of the films produced during this period – including Mohsen’s The Silence (1998) – involved most of the students in one role or another. For example, Samira’s younger sister, Hana, shot the stills for Marzieh’s extraordinary debut feature, The Day I Became a Woman (2000), while her brother, Maysam, made a documentary profiling the making of Samira’s bold second feature, Blackboards (2000). In the annals of film history there are few equivalents for this combination of artisan-based filmmaking and family cooperative. Though connected in approach, each of these three major filmmakers exhibit distinctive stylistic traits and thematic concerns. This season explores the films made by Samira, Mohsen and Marzieh Makhmalbaf including Mohsen’s playful explorations of the everyday realities of filmmaking in Iran – Salaam Cinema (1995) and A Moment of Innocence (1996) – Samira’s remarkable first feature as a 17-year-old, The Apple (1998), and Marzieh’s ground-breaking The Day I Became a Woman, a potent portrait of three women at various stages of their lives. Poetic, socially and politically engaged, often-feminist in orientation, grounded in the everyday, and endlessly playful and self-aware, the films created by this collective constitute one of the great legacies of New Iranian Cinema.
7:00pm SALAAM CINEMA
Mohsen Makhmalbaf (1995) 75 mins – Unclassified 15+
After an overwhelming response to an open audition for a film celebrating cinema’s 100th anniversary, Makhmalbaf decides to make a movie about the process. In some ways a playful, candid response to the type of metafictional “documentary” popularised by Kiarostami’s highly influential Close-Up – and in which Makhmalbaf himself played a central role – this is an important stepping-stone in Makhmalbaf’s career, allowing the director to comment on the autocratic power of cinema, the tricks and manipulations of filmmaking, and the profoundly porous relationship between cinema and everyday life.
8:35pm A MOMENT OF INNOCENCE
Mohsen Makhmalbaf (1996) 78 mins – Unclassified 15+
At the age of 17 in pre-revolutionary Iran Makhmalbaf was imprisoned for stabbing a policeman. Twenty years later he sets out to restage the events with the collaboration of his original antagonist. A typically playful mixture of realism and fabulation that dexterously examines the shifting perspectives and histories that surround such incidents. A subtle exploration of the intimate intertwining of cinema and everyday life in contemporary Iran and one of the key works of New Iranian Cinema.
10:05pm THE SILENCE
Mohsen Makhmalbaf (1998) 75m – Unclassified 15+
Shot in Tajikistan, this humanist, virtually non-narrative portrait of a ten-year-old blind boy (Tahmineh Normatova), who works as a musical instrument tuner to help pay the rent after his father has deserted the family and travelled to Russia, is an ambitious attempt to evoke the rich sensual life – notably sound, but also touch and smell – of the vision-impaired while still working in a visual medium. This key Makhmalbaf Film House production offered significant production roles to Samira, Hana, Maysam and Marzieh, and was banned by the Iranian authorities.
7:00pm THE APPLE
Samira Makhmalbaf (1998) 88 mins – Unclassified 15+
Makhmalbaf directed this extraordinary debut feature at just 17 years of age, becoming the youngest director to compete in the official section of the Cannes Film Festival in 1998. Using a real-life story – that of a man who confined his two daughters to their home since birth – as a potent metaphor for women’s restricted societal and cultural participation in Iran, it stars the real people involved in the incident and was shot on film stock left over from The Silence. That film’s director, Makhmalbaf’s father Mohsen, also co-wrote and edited this film.
8:40pm TWO-LEGGED HORSE
Samira Makhmalbaf (2008) 101 mins – Unclassified 15+
Shot and set in Afghanistan, Makhmalbaf’s last completed film is a bracing and confronting parable following the life of a poor young boy who earns a measly living piggybacking to school wealthy children who have lost legs in the war. A competition develops between the children that tests “how far a relationship between two people can go” (Makhmalbaf). As in her earlier films, the director chooses uncomfortable themes and challenging images to unsettle the viewer and examine social inequities and exploitation. Written by Mohsen Makhmalbaf, it was the winner of the Special Jury Prize at the 56th San Sebastian International Film Festival.
7:00pm THE DAY I BECAME A WOMAN
Marzieh Meshkini (2000) 78 mins – Unclassified 15+
Meshkini fully emerged as a commanding and provocative force in Iranian cinema with her first feature, a remarkable portmanteau portrait of three women at various stages in their lives, shot on the island of Kish. Although the first story best exemplifies the film’s title, focusing on the moments just before a girl becomes a “woman” on her ninth birthday, all three highlight the structural, social, cultural, spatial and patriarchal restrictions faced by Iranian women, while showing us remarkable moments – such as the extraordinary middle sequence featuring an increasingly desperate women’s bicycle race – of snatched freedom.
Mohsen Makhmalbaf (1996) 75 mins – G
Originally intended as a documentary about a near-extinct tribe of nomads living on the steppes of south-eastern Iran, Makhmalbaf’s gorgeously designed and widely celebrated production evolved into a fictional love story extrapolated from the director’s appreciation of the tribe’s Gabbehs – traditional carpets that act as both artistic expression and biographical record. For Makhmalbaf, the tranquil experience of viewing the carpets’ bold colours and tapestries is like the experience of viewing the film itself: “Gabbehs are like good Iranian films, [in] their simplicity and their re-creation of nature.”
35mm print courtesy of the National Film and Sound Archive, Australia.
Samira Makhmalbaf (2000) 85 mins – PG
This fluid, episodic narrative, following Kurdish refugees traversing the rocky mountain passes near the Iraqi border in northern Iran, focuses on teachers trying to find students as well as a group of old men in search of homes, as armed soldiers patrol their surrounds. Makhmalbaf’s precociously assured and bold second feature combines documentary realism with surrealist fantasy, as itinerant teachers carrying their blackboards on their backs crowd uncannily together to “make a spectacle that is like an art installation” (Peter Bradshaw). Co-written with and edited by Samira’s father, Mohsen.
35mm print courtesy of the National Film and Sound Archive, Australia.