Film Review by Nick Kouhi
Two classics of Iranian Cinema have risen from the ashes whole if not entirely unscathed. Bahram Beyzaie’s Downpour (Ragbar) and Masoud Kimiai’s The Deer (Gavazhna) are two of the crown jewels in the nation’s New Wave Cinema that ushered in the arrival of internationally revered auteurs like Abbas Kiarostami and Rakhshan Banietemad. Their near-total erasure from the cinematic canon by censors have left them in rough condition, a tactile quality which lends the films a resilient edge to their formal and political audacity.
Beyzaie’s directorial debut, about an upper-middle class schoolteacher (Parviz Fanizadeh) finding himself the target of gossip amongst the residents of the impoverished Tehran neighborhood he’s moved into, was released in 1972 to critical praise and commercial disappointment. The paltry box office returns could be attributed to the film’s varying tonal shifts and generic beats.
Downpour was partially improvised, the last third of its script remaining unfinished when shooting commenced, and that off-the-cuff quality finds its visual complement in Mehdi Rajaian’s eclectic editing and DP Mehrdad Fakhimi’s disarming zooms and dollies through light and shadow. At the center of it all is Fanizadeh’s jittery sincerity, his spectacled visage redolent of Harold Lloyd as he woos the beautiful older sister (Parvaneh Massoumi) of one of his students.
Beyzaie shot on location in various pockets of Tehran, and the resulting film has the quality of a snapshot filtered through prismatic views of communal dynamics. Kimiai would adopt a similar focus, albeit with far greater severity, in The Deer, which would become a box office smash in 1974 and synonymous with the Rex Cinema Fire, one of the most notorious and traumatic events of the Revolution. Kimiai’s tale details the reunion between childhood friends, one (Faramarz Gharibian) now a bank robber and the other (Behrouz Vossoughi) a junkie who has fallen from his once-venerated status within the neighborhood as a righteous savior.
The redemption of the latter fuels the emotional crux of Kimiai’s sorrowful tragedy, and Vossoughi’s weathered facial contortions give life to the film’s sense of social fury.
Both films were banned by the Islamic Republic, their negatives either severely damaged or destroyed. That both have survived is a gift to audiences everywhere searching for traces of Iran’s urban reality before the revolution, and the astonishing artistic vision of that reality which exploded onscreen.
The Deer is distributed by Grasshopper films. Downpour can be viewed on the Criterion Channel.
Film Review by Nick Kouhi
Two classics of Iranian Cinema have risen from the ashes whole if not entirely unscathed.