The High Museum of Art
will host the 13th annual Iranian Film Today film festival in January 2011. Featuring six films, this years festival includes both seasoned, award-winning filmmakers Bahman Motamedian (Sex My Life) and Ramtin Lavafipour (Be Calm and Count to Seven) and the feature debuts of several filmmakers including Shalizeh Arefpour (Heiran) and Shirin Neshat (Women Without Men).
Despite the repression of dissenting voices in Iran, its filmmakers continue to produce cinema that holds its own on the worlds screens, said Linda Dubler, curator of media arts at the High. The 13th annual Iranian Film Today presents diverse views of Iranian society, from the edgiest documentary to the most elegant art film. Ranging from the exploration of the role of women in an Islamic theocracy to the marginalization of gays and lesbians and the fate of refugees, this years festival is full of revelations and new discoveries.
Iranian Film Today begins on Friday, January 7, with Payback from noted feminist director Tamineh Milani. Inspired by a 2001 stint in prison, the film is a pointed dramatic comedy about a paroled female ex-con who convinces three other womenall of whom have spent time behind barsto join her in a get-rich-quick scheme: they will pose as prostitutes and fleece gullible married men who are looking for a little outside action. As Barbara Scharres wrote in the Gene Siskell Film Centers calendar, While director Milani doesn't shun the darker implications of the plot, she infuses the caper with some nasty fun and a dominatrix vibe when these four young women deftly turn the tables on their would-be male predators.
In his feature debut, director Shalizeh Arefpour presents a revealing look at the complex and troubled relationship between Iranian society and Afghan immigrants and refugees as well as a poignant love story in Heiran, on Saturday, January 8. The story unfolds as Mahi, an Iranian high school student, falls in love with Heiran, an illegal Afghan immigrant, and the two go to Tehran to be married, despite the vehement opposition of their families. There Mahis innocence and Heirans vulnerability combine to make their life far less idyllic than they imagined.
On Friday, January 14, director Bahman Motamedians Sex My Life explores the lives of seven transsexuals who confront the prejudices of a homophobic society and the alienation that comes from being shunned and misunderstood daily. A blend of documentary and scripted, reality-based fiction cast with non-professional, transsexual actors, this daring and telling work was banned in Iran, a country where homosexual acts are punishable by death yet transexuality is allowed.
An award-winning film from cinematographer-turned-director Ramtin Lavafipour, Be Calm and Count to Seven will be screened on Saturday, January 15. Set in the beautiful, isolated islands of the Persian Gulf, the film revolves around a boy named Motu, who dreams of becoming rich and famous like his hero, Brazilian soccer god Ronaldinho. But his fathers recent disappearance while transporting illegal human cargo is a pressing reality, as is Motus involvement with a smuggling gang. Now responsible for his family, Motu must deal with the ever-vigilant police, the thrill and monetary rewards of evading the law and the changing face of life in what was once a traditional fishing village.
Described in The Lincoln Centers New Directors / New Films program as [a film that] marks a new chapter in the fascinating evolution of Iranian cinema, Tehroun, on Friday, January 21, is the debut feature of Nader Homayoun. The film captures a caustic portrait of modern Iran as three young men try to make it in the city, where they find that high hopes and the willingness to work hard are not enough. Ibrahim, who has left his pregnant wife behind in their village, slides into a life of crime through what looks like a relatively harmless con and soon finds himself heavily in debt to a very dangerous boss. Ibrahims pals conspire to help him out, but their solution is as dark as the no-exit situation that confronts him at every turn.
Women Without Men marks the end of the film series on Saturday, January 22. It is the first film from Shirin Neshat, an acclaimed visual artist known for her still photography and video installations that deal with gender issues in Islamic society. Set in 1953, just after a CIA-backed coup overthrew a democratically elected government and installed the Shah to power, the film traces the intersecting lives of Zarin, a prostitute who has fled the brothel in which she works; Munis, who is essentially held prisoner in her own home by her deeply religious brother; Muniss friend Faezeh, who shares the brothers faith and dreams of marrying him; and Fakhri, a wealthy woman stuck in a unhappy marriage to a bullying military man. New York Times writer Stephen Holden described the film as visually transfixing.