The category of Iranian New Wave cinema share qualities with Italian Neo-realism and French New Wave Cinema. This is not at all surprising given the influence that these two genres have had in both the cultural and political evolution of Iran and neighboring Middle Eastern nations. This new movement in Iranian film began in the 1960s and its growth is often attributed to The Cow, a film by Darius Mehrjui released in 1969. During this time, Iran was undergoing political and social changes as well, which spurred, yet also received motivation from this new genre of cinema. As life changed for many Iranians, the style of film in the nation followed suit. This helps to explain the documentary style of many Iranian New Wave films. They focus on everyday life while showcasing the beautiful scenery in the countryside. Additionally, the intellectual revolution occurring simultaneously in Iran at the time lent itself to the poetic storylines and dialogue that are common in this genre of films. Lastly in terms of content, the new style of thought in Iran allowed for women to take a more dominant role in film, no longer being domestically contained but appearing as strong figureheads in films. As a result of the low budget and older technology of the filmmakers, the cinematography is done via many wide shots with either simple camera panning or tilting, or, as in the case of The Cow, hand shot. The sound design and editing follow suit, with basic sounds being implemented in sometimes-exaggerated ways and being pieced together in a choppy manner with little interplay between shots.
Filmmakers and Their Films:
Darius Mehrjui – The Cow (1969)
Bahram Beizai – Downpour (1972)
Sohrab Saless – Still Life (1974)
Abbas Kiarostami – The Wind Will Carry Us (1991)
Mohsen Makhmalbahf – Kandahar (2001)
Jafar Panahi – Offside (2006)
The New Wave in Iranian Cinema – From Past to Present (Ahmad Talebinejad)
This essay is based off of a series of questions asked in an interview with Ahmad Talebinejad, the author of a book detailing the emergence of Iranian New Wave Cinema. In the interview, he explains how the Iranian New Wave movement differed greatly from previous films of the nation. He talks in detail of FilmFarsi, a movement comprised of obscene (in both language and content) films that was the norm prior to the late 1960s in Iran. With the cultural revolution occurring in Iran and intellectual thought becoming more appreciated the New Wave style of film, which focused on portraying everyday life as poetic and beautiful also became more mainstream and popular. While Talebinejad discusses how the FilmFarsi style did not disappear completely, its popularity in cinema did for the most part as poetic Iranian films replaced obscene ones from Iran and European nations too.
A Taste of Splendor (Lubna Abdel-Aziz)
In her essay, Lubna Abdel-Aziz documents the progression of cinema in the Middle East from its beginnings in the early 1900s all the way up through the new wave of films into the modern day productions. The focus of the body of her essay however, explains why Iranian New Wave films have gained so much fame among international film connoisseurs despite their low budgets and simple storylines. According to Aziz, the success of Iranian New Wave films comes as a result of the poetic way in which they represent universal struggles of life through a personal point of view. The censorship and symbolism of these films come as a result of the censorship imposed by the Iranian government, yet it has actually aided the fame of these films by forcing their subjects to be broad enough to encompass people from all walks of life.
Cinematography in Iranian New Wave Cinema:
The cinematography in Iranian New Wave cinema portrays both the content of the films as well as the challenges that faced filmmakers during their production. In the opening scene of The Wind Will Carry Us, the filmmakers employed a several minute long shot. In this continuous shot, the camera is tracking a car as it winds its way down the switchbacks of desert mountain roads. Rather than switching from angle to angle as many modern films might do, the director of this film chooses to keep the shot as a continuous wide shot. This is done for two reasons, the first of which involves a characteristic of Iranian New Wave films. Because many of these films counter the obscene nature of previous Iranian productions (i.e. FilmFarsi), the focus of these new films was on the rural life and scenery. By maintaining slow tracking wide shots in the filming of the scenes, the viewer is able to witness the background of Iran as the director intended. Also a cause of the simple camera movements is the low budget of the Iranian films. Without sophisticated equipment, tracking alongside the vehicle, filming from outside or on top of the vehicle, or other complex angles are not feasible, and therefore not used.
Another cinematic tactic often employed in the genre of Iranian New Wave films is hand shot footage. Once again, this can be attributed to the low budget and simple technology of filmmakers of the region and era. However, just like the previous stylistic choice allows the audience to appreciate the scenery, this strategy also lends an artistic element to the productions. In The Cow, many of the scenes are hand shot. This shaky footage gives support to the emotions of the protagonist as he suffers through the grief of losing his beloved livestock, as well as lending to the barbarianism to which he succumbs later in the film before his death.
Lastly, Iranian New Wave films often utilize cutaways during busy moments in the plot. In the bustle of the stadium crowds in Offside, the filmmakers employ cutaways to show the distracting nature of Iranian crowds. Likewise, in The Wind Will Carry Us, cutaways are common in large group dialogue scenes where characters are bickering with one another. The bounce-around nature of the camera imitates the high energy of the characters in the scenes.
What to Look For:
-Strength of Women
-Wide Shots with Slow Panning Movement
-Little Camera Movement
-Showcase on Scenery and Everyday Life