Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Golestan Film Studio, between poetry and politics (four shorts)

Tappeha-ye Marlik / The Hills of Marlik. The ancient statue is playfully placed by Golestan.

Golestan Film Studio, tra poesia e politica
Golestan Film Studio, between poetry and politics

Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna
Introduce Ehsan Khoshbakht
Cinema Lumiere – Sala Scorsese, 28 June 2016

Ehsan Khoshbakht (Bologna catalog): "Time to celebrate the first Iranian independent film studio, which during its 10-year run managed to produce some of the most remarkable entries (both documentary and fiction) in the history of Iranian cinema. One man is responsible for this enterprise: the filmmaker, producer, writer and translator Ebrahim Golestan; a figure of special importance to Iranian culture, without whom the notion of an Iranian art cinema would have been an unlikely prospect."

"If Golestan’s literary oeuvre has been widely discussed, his contribution to cinema remains underrated and the films largely inaccessible. Though Brick and Mirror, a pioneering work of Iranian New Wave, came to be seen as a misunderstood masterpiece, the documentaries were left largely unseen."

"Born in 1922 in Shiraz, Golestan began his encounters with the cinema at an early age, being taken to screenings by his newspaper-owner father. Initially he became a journalist, and joined the Communist Party of Iran, but, disillusioned with the Party’s treatment of the current affairs, retreated to literature. He wrote novels, and translated Ernest Hemingway and Mark Twain into Persian."

"Owning an 8 mm Bolex as a teenager, Golestan soon graduated to 16 mm and practiced his craft by producing news footage, often commissioned by American networks."

"In 1958, commisioned by oil companies, Golestan founded his studio. Instead of hiring professionals, he scouted for young talent, training them for various tasks. This small, dedicated group included cameraman Soleiman Minassian, actor/assistant-director Zackaria Hashemi and soundman Mahmood Hangval. Probably the most famous of his employees was Forough Farrokhzad, studio’s editor and occasional actress, who also directed the haunting documentary The House Is Black."

"However, tragedy struck: in 1967, Farrokhzad, with whom Golestan shared more than a professional relationship, died in a car accident. Shortly after, Golestan abandoned his film studio and left Iran to settle in the UK. It was only in 1971, when he made a short return, that he made what turned out to be his last cinematic work."

"In retrospect, Golestan’s films seem as fresh and powerful as ever, freely ranging between prose poetry and anthropology; from political metaphor to philosophical allegory. In their rich and colourful universe, the past and present live side by side, often overlooking each other’s presence until the camera’s observant eye reconciles them by means of poetic inspiration. Along with the repeated acts of excavation and digging – for oil, objects and history – seen in Golestan’s films, the works are themselves a search for the roots of an old tree called Iran." – Ehsan Khoshbakht

Yek atash / A Fire
یک آتش / [Un fuoco]. IR 1961. D: Ebrahim Golestan. SC: Ebrahim Golestan. Cinematography: Shahrokh Golestan. ED: Forough Farrokhzad. C: John Sherman (voce narrante). PC: Golestan Film Studio. 35 mm. 23 min
    English version
    From: University of Chicago Film Studies Center
Ehsan Khoshbakht (Bologna catalog): "In the spring of 1958 an oil well in the southwest of Iran caught fire. Golestan took his small crew to the location and filmed the process of extinguishing the conflagration. Later, Forough Farrokhzad, fresh from an educational course on the use of archival footage in the UK, edited the film which combined her poetic sensibilities with Golestan’s more symbolic approach. The result stands in sharp contrast with, for instance, Werner Herzog’s treatment of the same subject matter in Lektionen in Finsternis (Lessons of Darkness). Golestan develops a folkloric narrative, a celebration of collective work by ordinary people, while Herzog gives us an operatic tale of individualism. Golestan looks at the situation from the inside, whereas for Herzog the process of filming becomes another epic adventure in an exotic place which stands beyong language. Golestan is not interested in the steely will of men but offers an anecdotal, poetic depiction of the lives interweaved with the disaster. After all, fire was sacred in ancient Iran and fire was also the form in which God appeared to Abraham (Ebrahim)." – Ehsan Khoshbakht
    AA: An epic documentary on extinguishing a massive oil well fire. The pits, the cement, the water, the pipeline. Giant jets of water are not enough. The fire must be stopped with multiple explosions. There is a focus and a power of observation in the documentary. There is a sense of the sublime in the vision of the thunder and the fire. There is a celebration of everyday courage in the account of the laconic professionalism of the experienced fire brigade.

Khaneh siah ast / The House Is Black
خانه سیاه است / [La casa è nera]. IR 1962. D: Forough Farrokhzad. SC: Forough Farrokhzad. Cinematography: Soleiman Minassian. ED: Forough Farrokhzad. C: Forough Farrokhzad (voce narrante), Ebrahim Golestan (voce narrante). PC: Golestan Film Studio. 35 mm. 21 min
    Farsi version with French subtitles
    Print from CNC – Archives françaises du film
Chris Marker (quoted in the Bologna catalogue): "February 13, [1967] at 4:30 pm, Forough Farrokhzad died in a car accident in Tehran. She was one of the greatest contemporary Persian poets, and she was also a filmmaker. She had directed The House Is Black… Grand Prix at Oberhausen, and beyond that practically unknown in Europe, and the film is a masterpiece. She was 33… equally made of magic and energy, she was the Queen of Sheba described by Stendhal. For her first film, she went straight to the most unwatchable: leprosy, lepers. And if was needed the gaze of a woman, if is always needed the look of a woman to establish the right distance with suffering and hideousness, without complacency and self-pity, her gaze still transformed her subject, and by bypassing the abominable trap of the symbol, succeed in binding, besides the truth, this leprosy to all the leprosies of the world. So that The House Is Black is also the Land Without Bread of Iran, and the day that French distributors will admit that one can be Persian, we shall notice that Forough Farrokhzad had given more in one movie than lots of people with easier names to remember." – Chris Marker, “Cinéma 67”, n. 117.
    AA: See my separate blog remark on The House Is Black.

Tappeha-ye Marlik / The Hills of Marlik
تپههای مارلیک / The Elements / [Le colline di Marlik]. IR 1964. D: Ebrahim Golestan. SC: Ebrahim Golestan. Cinematography: Soleiman Minassian. ED: Ebrahim Golestan. M: Morteza Hannaneh. C: Brian Spooner (voce narrante inglese), Ebrahim Golestan (voce narrante persiana). PC: Golestan Film Studio. 35 mm. 15 min
    English version
    From: University of Chicago Film Studies Center
    Ehsan Khoshbakht (Bologna catalog): "A 3,000-year-old site in the north of Iran is simultaneously excavated by archaeologists and fertilized by farmers. Another example of Golestan’s documentary work about classical elements, in which the past touches the present, and there is a clear continuity among the forms of human life detected by the camera, as it breathes life into dead objects."
    "While watching the film, it’s impossible not to recall Les Statues meurent aussi (1953), with both films drawing converging lines between man, art, and death, and sharing a both poetic and political approach to history. Technically, it appears that Golestan has adopted some of the ways in which the Marker/Resnais/Cloquet team detach statues and other objects from their surroundings, to display them against a purely cinematic black background, giving the statues the sense of volume they need. Golestan pays scrupulous attention to sound, as quite often the music – an excellent contribution by Morteza Hannaneh, one of the most serious Iranian composers of his era – goes silent in order to amplify the sound of brushes caressing a broken piece of pottery." – Ehsan Khoshbakht
    AA: The hills of Marlik are being fertilized by farmers, and archeologists excavate ancient statues of fertility imagery (females with prominent breasts and vaginas, males with full erections). There are samples of stark stylization which render the distinction of "ancient" and "modern" meaningless (see image above). The samples of ancient forging are spellbinding. There is a genius in the editing of the look. A vision of "time without time".

Ganjineha-ye gohar / The Crown Jewels of Iran
گنجینههای گوهر / [I gioielli della corona dell’Iran]. IR 1965. D: Ebrahim Golestan. SC: Ebrahim Golestan. Cinematography: Soleiman Minassian. ED: Ebrahim Golestan. M: Hossein Dehlavi. C: Ebrahim Golestan (voce narrante). PC: Golestan Film Studio. 35 mm. 15 min
    Farsi version, screened without subtitles.
    From: University of Chicago Film Studies Center
    Ehsan Khoshbakht (Bologna catalog): "Commissioned by the Central Bank of Iran to celebrate the collection of precious jewels kept in the treasury, this film remains Golestan’s most visually dazzling film, embellished with terrific camera movements. Some of the most iconic landscape photography in the history of Iranian cinema can be found within a minute after the opening credits, in which peasants of various ethnicities and tribes are quickly reviewed, all posed in a graceful manner, like kings without being kings. Like a work of musical composition, a simple act of ploughing is spread across shots of various size and angle, creating an intimate visual symphony. And then appears one of Golestan’s allegorical match-cuts: a farmer seen on the horizon before a cut to a diamond on a dark background – the farmer is the jewel. As in his previous commissioned films, Golestan manages to subvert the subject by being openly critical of the Persian kings. The theme of the commentary is in clear contrast with what is shown: colourful images of jewels in rotation while Golestan’s voice is heard, describing the decadence and treachery of past kings." – Ehsan Khoshbakht
    AA: A vision of an immense – infinite – treasure, the theme of the crown jewels opens up to all kinds of meanings, most importantly, about the treasure of Iran itself and its people. A quick and witty montage. This print is turning red, and this masterpiece would be eminently worthy of a beautiful colour restoration.

AA: The Golestan Film Studio show: four jewels about fighting the elements, fighting a disease, and displaying treasures of a culture with an ancient tradition.

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