A Viennale retrospective Earthly Songs: Ebrahim Golestan at 100
Viennale & Notes on Cinematograph Thursday, 13 October 2022
This retrospective takes place in Vienna, as part of theViennale. The screenings, programmed into four sessions, are scheduled for October 21-23, 2022. I shall be introducing all four events. – Ehsan Khoshbakht (EK)
Art and poetry were probably already in Ebrahim Golestan's cradle when he saw the light of day in 1922 in Shiraz, home of Hafiz and Saadi, Iran's most famous poets and mystics active in the 13th and 14th centuries.
In the course of his now century-old life, however, he not only made a name for himself as a writer and translator of Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner, but also influenced generations of filmmakers in his home country with his work as a director and producer. In this country, Golestan's documentary works and feature films are hardly known. On the occasion of the premiere of Mitra Farahani's A VENDREDI, ROBINSON we present his most important films in restored versions.
Our great thanks go to Ehsan Khoshbakht, who is responsible for the program, as well as to Mitra Farahani for rediscovering these treasures of film history. Like messages from a message in a bottle, they remind us of undreamed-of conditions of creative freedom.
With great thanks to the Cineteca di Bologna for making this program possible. In the presence of Ehsan Khoshbakht (curator).
Sunday, 3 July 2016 (Friends, colleagues, and fellow cinephiles from all around the world gathered in Bologna. The reason was Il Cinema Ritrovato, the 30th edition. I was there to witness Gian Luca Farinelli blowing the candles, celebrating three decades of cinephilia of the highest caliber, but also to show films by the godfather of Iranian modern cinema, Ebrahim Golestan.)
A look at Golestan's oil documentaries, as well as examining his collaboration with poet and filmmaker Forough Farrokhzad. In 1958, an oil well in southwest Iran caught fire. Abolghassem Rezaie, the son of one of the pioneers of Iranian cinema, made Fire-Fight at Ahwaz about the disaster. When Golestan saw the black-and-white footage, for which he wrote the narration, he saw that the story held even greater potential and decided to produce his own version of the events – this time in colour. Golestan's version, A Fire, proved to be his first major international success. It was edited by Farrokhzad, who combined her poetic sensibilities with Golestan's more symbolic approach. Farrokhzad also acted in Courtship, a short made for Canadian television, in which Golestan demonstrates a marvellous ability with mise-en-scène, especially in his assured use of the camera.
In the same year, Farrokhzad made The House Is Black, set in a leper colony in northwest Iran. Celebrated as one of the greatest films ever made, it is a dialogue between the passions of the poet (Farrokhzad) and the voice of reason (Golestan).
Wave, Coral and Rock chronicles the laying of oil pipelines in the south of Iran. Even though the directorial credit went to Alan Pendry – a former assistant to Bert Haanstra – he was, in fact, called in at the last minute whenGolestanwas hospitalised following a terrible car crash, forcing him to send the crew his instructions from his hospital bed. It is ultimately Golestan's editing and commentary that elevate the story, and give the film its poetic style.
Though the film looks at its subject from above and below, for the most part it stays close to the soil. It touches on other themes too, such as the “patient process of nature” and the “toil and intellect of man”, before ending with a highly political statement about the people of Iran, who have no share of the oil wealth.Wave, Coral and Rock was followed by the even more controversial The Crown Jewels of Iran. Ostensibly a showcase for the collection of precious jewels kept in the treasury of the Central Bank of Iran, it is in fact a bold attack on the treachery of the Persian kings. This, Golestan's most visually dazzling documentary, is like a work of musical composition; as seen in the simple act of ploughing, which is spread across shots of various sizes and angles, creating an intimate visual symphony.
Session#3:Jewels of Earth, Part II
Persian Story (1952) / Harvest and Seed (1965) / The Hills of Marlik (1963)
Total running time: 65 mins
Harvest and Seed, never before shown outside Iran, is a study in the conditions of a poverty-stricken Iranian village after the land reforms of the early 1960s.Rather than leading to a distribution of wealth, the financial and political power has merely changed hands from one corrupt element to another. Copies of the film were immediately confiscated. A different view on the question of land use is offered in The Hills of Marlik, which focuses on a 3,000-year-old site in the north of Iran, simultaneously excavated by archaeologists and fertilized by farmers. Another example of Golestan’s interest in the classical elements, here the past touches the present and there is a clear continuity among the forms of human life detected by the camera, as it breathes new life into dead objects.Golestan pays scrupulous attention to sound too; quite often the music – an excellent contribution by Morteza Hannaneh, one of the most innovative Iranian composers of his era – goes silent, in order to amplify the sound of brushes caressing a broken piece of pottery.
Iranian cinema’s first true modern masterpiece is a Dostoyevskian exploration of fear and responsibility, the tale of a Tehran cab driver’s search for the mother of an abandoned baby. 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. This was followed by improvised scenes in the vegetable market of Tehran.
When the camera lens broke during the shooting of a scene in the Palace of Justice, the production was delayed. 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 sense of lurking unrest depicted in the film. With its title alluding to a poem byAttar (‘What the old can see in a mudbrick/youth can't see in a mirror.’) the film moves between realism and expressionism. It features a very rare use of direct sound in Iranian cinema (the detail emphasised by the lack of any score), which complements the claustrophobic use of widescreen. An unforgettable and bleak image of a society of corrupted morals and widespread alienation, the restored version returns to the director’s original vision, featuring scenes never seen before.
Labels: Ebrahim Golestan, Film Curating, Iranian New Wave Posted by Ehsan Khoshbakht at 10:27