The first Iranian film I watched was Children of Heaven, back in the year 2000. It was about two siblings, who shared a pair of shoes. The brother would wear the shoes to school in the morning as he’s in the morning session, ran back home immediately after class so that his sister can wear that same pair of shoes to school for her classes in the afternoon session.
Back then, I was teaching in a school where 50% of the students came from high income families and the rest higher middle income families. I remembered how I was so affected by that film that the next day, I narrated the film to all my classes, to those children who not only do NOT have to share shoes, but who can afford to buy 4 pairs at one go.
Since that day, I have been a faithful follower of Iranian films. Back in my hometown they have the annual International Film Festival and surprisingly, Iranian films proved quite a hit with my countrymen with full houses in most screenings. The other film that I remembered very well was ‘I’m Taraneh, 15’, which precedes Juno in dealing with issues of teenage pregnancy.
The thing I like about Iranian films is that it usually centres around a very simple plot presenting the day to day life of the laymen in the Iranian society. However, from that simple plot stems the most profound branches of themes and issues of the Iranian community and the different facets of their lives.
Just now I watched ‘Hayat’. The Iranian Film Festival is going on here in conjunction with the Nauruz festival, the Iranian/Persian/Afghanistan New Year.
Hayat is a 12 year-old girl who lives with her family in a beautiful village. The night before a school exam, her father falls gravely ill and is taken to the hospital. Hayat is forced to look after her infant sister on the most important day of her life. Hayat tried to make it to school through a series of heart wrenching comedy of errors. On many occasions, I had to control myself from verbalizing my frustrations at watching her having to go through all the challenges just to get someone to watch over her baby sister for an hour so she could sit for her final exams–her ticket to the boarding school in the city if she passes it. It was heart-wrenching to see her determination to go against the social norms of her village, just for the sake of continuing her education in a society where her neighbor refused to cooperate by looking after her baby sister because Hayat should be at home ‘learning how to knit, cook and do embroidery’
Since 2001, I have been buying season tickets to watch international films back in my hometown during the International Film Festival. I must say that none have managed to give me the same impact as the Iranian films. Even local film maker Yasmin Ahmad‘s work, to me is not up to their level.