Recent, post-revolutionary Iranian cinema has of course gained the attention of international audiences who have been stuck by its powerful, poetic and often explicitly political explorations. Yet mainstream, pre-revolutionary Iranian cinema, with a history stretching back to the early twentieth century, has been perceived in the main as lacking in artistic merit, and crucially, as apolitical content.
From its beginnings and until fairly recently, Iranian cinema has presented itself as a particularly legible form of escapism. Throughout most of its history, it has been characterized by bad scripts, poor performances and low production values. In form and content Iranian films have tended to be conservative, but reading between the lines we find peculiar, sometimes contradictory, dynamic that provides the opportunity for examination of specific social and political problems. Behind a tale of happy childhood, for example, may lurk a subtext about disheartened adulthood; beneath the mask of a love story, one may often find a subtle explication of oppression.
It is no secret that Iranian film has had little direct influence on social attitudes and behavior. For many years it could hardly be taken seriously, and rarely even took itself seriously until relatively recently – during the 1990’s – when it began to be approached more thoughtfully by both film makers and critics. Therefore, the rise of Iranian cinema to world prominence over the last few years is one of the most fascinating cultural stories of our time. There is scarcely an international film festival anywhere that does not honor the aesthetic and political exploration of Iranian artists.
In Europe and in North America, in Asia and in Latin America, in Australia and Africa, the thematic and narrative richness of Iranian cinema has met with tremendous acclaim. Indeed, its particular modes of realism – building on such cinematic antecedents as Italian, French and German neorealism – have become truly transnational, contributing a new visual vocabulary to filmmaking everywhere – Hamid Reza Sadr & Hamid Dabashi