Friday, July 01, 2016

Khest o ayeneh / The Brick and the Mirror (2015 digital restoration)

Khest o ayeneh / The Brick and the Mirror. The taxi driver Hashem (Zackaria Hashemi) and his girlfriend Taji (Taji Ahmadi)

خشت و آینه / Khesht va ayeneh / Mudbrick and Mirror / Adobe and Mirror / Brique et miroir / [Mattone e specchio]. IR. Years of production: 1963–1964. Year of premiere: 1966. D+SC: Ebrahim Golestan. Cinematography: Soleiman Minassian. ED: Ebrahim Golestan. C: Zackaria Hashemi (Hashem), Taji Ahmadi (Taji), Jalal Moghadam, Masoud Faghih, Parviz Fannizadeh (uomini nel caffè), Manouchehr Farid (il poliziotto), Mohammad Ali Keshavarz (il dottore rapinato), Jamshid Mashayekhi (il poliziotto con il braccio rotto), Mehri Mehrnia (la donna delle rovine), Forough Farrokhzad (la passeggera del taxi). PC: Golestan Film Studio. [The film was not released in Finland]. DCP. 130 min
    Black and white in scope
    Restored in 2015 from the Chicago Film Studies Center’s 35 mm release print
    Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna
    Golestan Film Studio, between Poetry and Politics
    From: University of Chicago Film Studies Center.
    Farsi version with English subtitles
    Cinema Lumiere – Sala Scorsese 1 July 2016

Ehsan Khoshbakht (Bologna catalog): "Iranian cinema’s first true modern masterpiece, Brick and Mirror explores fear and responsibility in the aftermath of the Coup."

"With its title alluding to a poem by Attar (“What the old can see in a mud-brick/ youth can see in a mirror”), Golestan’s first feature mixes dream and reality, responding to the changing climate of Iranian society, the failure of intellectuals and corruption in all walks of life. It was also the first use of direct-sound in the Iranian cinema, with minute attention given to environmental sound (emphasised by the lack of score) which complements the claustrophobic use of widescreen."

"The film’s production began in the spring of 1963 with a small crew of five, and without a finished script. The only written part – the driver and the woman in the ruins – became the basis for the first shoot, followed by improvised scenes in the vegetable market of Tehran. The breakage of the anamorphic lens during the shooting of a scene in the Palace of Justice delayed production. On June 5, 1963, while the crew awaited the shipment of a new lens from France, a protest arose against the arrest of Ayatollah Khomeini. This added to the atmosphere of tension and fear depicted in the film."

"With production resumed, the interior shots of Hashem’s room (comprising 40 minutes of the completed film) took five weeks to shoot, followed by a four-week shoot for the precinct and orphanage scenes. The film was premiered on January 12, 1966 at the Radio City cinema in Tehran. It played there for three weeks, but was dismissed by critics as “arty” and “pretentious”. Those who saw The Brick and the Mirror as a realist film were baffled by the long soliloquies given by characters. Jonathan Rosenbaum has described the spirit of the film as “a mix of Dostoevskij and expressionism”. The soliloquy form reflects both Golestan’s regard for Orson Welles and the oral storytelling and frequent use of metaphor in Persian culture."
– Ehsan Khoshbakht

آنچه در آينه جوان بيند، پير در خشت خام آن بيند
What the old man can see in a brick, the young one can see in a mirror

– Attar

AA: The story has some affinity with Charles Chaplin's The Kid, Eduard Johansson's Naslednyi prints respubliki [The Crown Prince of the Republic], and Coline Serreau's Trois hommes et un couffin. A baby is abandoned on a taxi driver's back seat. The film is about the baby's fate, how she turns everything upside down in the taxi driver Hashem and his girlfriend Taji's lives. The adventure with the baby is also a journey of exploration in society: Tehran, Iran, the mid-1960s. Ebrahim Golestan had worked in non-fiction for 15 years, and The Brick and the Mirror has also great documentary value.

Ehsan Khoshbakht reports above that the title of the film is derived from a poem by Attar (Abū Ḥamīd bin Abū Bakr Ibrāhīm (ca 1145 – ca 1221;  ابو حامد بن ابوبکر ابراهیم‎‎) / Farīd ud-Dīn (فرید الدین) / ʿAṭṭār (عطار, "the perfumer" / Attar of Nishapur). What young ones can see in a mirror, grown-ups can see even in a brick.

Watching Michelangelo Antonioni's "trilogy of solitude" my mother (who had seven children) once remarked: "they don't have children". (Meaning: if they had some, there would be no problem of solitude). There are children in Golestan's film which has an affinity with Antonioni. The ending of The Brick and the Mirror can be compared with that of L'eclisse. And the presence of children (and the decision about the responsibility for them) is the essential difference between Antonioni and Golestan.

Iranian cinema, more than any other, is famous for the centrality of children, and it is interesting to observe the centrality of the baby in this, the foundation film of modern Iranian cinema.

There are many enigmas in The Brick and the Mirror. Why was the baby abandoned? Why do Hashem and Taji not move together? Why do they have to keep absolutely silent at night? Behind all this there is a profound sense of unrest. There is no security of hope for the future.

Against all odds Taji would like to keep the baby and establish a family with Hashem. Immediately Taji is very good with the baby. She knows what to do and takes the initiative. She is deeply hurt and disappointed when Hashem takes the baby to the orphanage. "I thought the child would bring us together".

Hashem is not the irresponsible scoundrel that we expect from the "three men and a baby" stories in which men are rascals – adolescents – at first, until the baby grows them into men. Hashem acts responsibly from the start, and he is deeply disturbed when he hands the baby over to the authorities.

Shaken by Taji's powerful reaction Hashem returns to the orphanage taking her with him, but it is no longer possible to identify the baby. There is a frisson like in Italian neorealistic films (the endless rows of pawned sheets in Ladri di biciclette) when Taji scans hundreds of orphan babies, smiling, crying, rhythmically moving. "Babies need touching, proximity".

The ending is open. Hashem cannot wait any longer, and he disappears into the traffic of the big city. Taji remains at the orphanage.

The milieux in The Brick and the Mirror are memorable. The abandoned construction site. The crowded café, a center of social life. The police station. Hashem's room with very little privacy. The orphanage.

The visual style is based on stark realism, with forceful cinematography in black and white and scope by Soleiman Minassian.

There is a dynamic structure between the noise and bustle of the big city and spaces and moments of silence and emptiness.

Hashem is a survivor. He is wary of promises, as "a man's word is like a pit". At home, "behind each window, an evil eye, a wicked tongue". He exercises. On his walls are images of musclemen. He works hard. He is not cynical but he does not want to take a responsibility that he is unable to carry.

Taji would desire nothing more than a baby, to be a mother.

Hashem cannot sleep with the lights on. Taji cannot sleep with the lights off. Perhaps a sufficient reason why they cannot live together.

The satirical account of bureaucracy brings to mind Russian classics like Tolstoy and Chekhov.

The Brick and the Mirror is a film based on a sense of duration, durée in the sense of Bergson. In studies of Russian literature an essential term is "being", byt (быть). For instance: "to be or not to be" = быть или не быть.

To convey the sense of being in a real place in a real period of time is the highest achievement of the cinema. That was what Abbas Kiarostami was famous for. But he belonged to a distinguished pre-existing tradition, and the highest level had already been reached by Ebrahim Golestan, for example in The Brick and the Mirror.

There is in contemporary film criticism a misleading discourse on "slow cinema". For me a film can be slow in the sense of boring when it is based on fast edit and ceaseless action. And a film of the highest intensity can be made without plot or action, like Béla Tarr did in The Turin Horse.

There are prolonged episodes of no action (the abandoned construction site, the overcrowded orphanage) in The Brick and the Mirror, but it always emanates a high intensity of being.

The visual quality of the DCP is clean and fair, but it has perhaps not been manufactured in the highest possible resolution.

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