Modern Iranian cinema begins with Dariush Mehrjui. He was the founding member of the Iranian New Wave movement by introducing symbolism, realism and the sensibilites of cinema to the Iranian audience. His films were internationally praised because he wasn’t afraid to address taboo subjects in order to let the world know what’s going on in the Iran. And he did it in a beautiful way. So how come few people have heard about him? As his wonderful film GAAV (THE COW) is being re-shown in Paris starting this week, we present you this independent director.
Growing up in Teheran, Dariush Mehrjui started to get interested in film from an early age on. At the age of 12, he built a 35mm projector, rented two reel films and began selling tickets to his friends from the neighborhood. Even though he was raised in a religious household, Mehrjui said that at the age of 15 „The face of God became a little hazy for me, and I lost my faith.“
He started to study cinema at UCLA in California, but switched to the major Philosophy after a short time, being unsatisfied with the quality of the film classes. After having created his own literary magazine „Pars Review“, whose aim it was to bring Persian literature closer to the western world, he went back to Tehran, with his first written script in his pocket.
His directorial debut in 1966 with DIAMOND 33 was relatively unsuccessful, but he continued working on his second film GAAV. The film, which is based on a play by Iranian literature figure Gholamhossein Sa’edi, tells the story of a simple villager and his nearly mythical attachment to his cow. Despite being one of the first films in Iran to receive government funding, the film was banned for over a year by the Ministry of Culture and Arts. When it was finally released in 1970 it was highly praised, but still denied an export permit. However, Mehrjui did not let that stop him. In 1971, the film was smuggled out of Iran and submitted to the Venice Film Festival, where it became the largest event of that year’s festival and won the International Critics Award even without subtitles or programming. The film is considered to mark the turning point in the history of Iranian cinema, initiating the Iranian New Wave movement.
As his success was rising, Mehrjui was working on his third feature AGHA-YE HALLOU, a lighter comedy. Because of its lighter content, the film had fewer censorship problems and became a commercial and critical success in Iran.
Now that his name gained more recognition, Mehrjui returned to the political and subject matters that interested him most. His film THE CYCLE deals with the issue of illegal blood trafficking in Iran. The film’s title refers to a line from a poem by Hafiz Shirazi: “Because of the cycle of the universe, my heart is bleeding.“ The film was co- sponsored by the Minisrty of culture but was still banned for three years because of opposition from the Iranian medical establishment. Finally, 1977 the film’s premiere was held in Paris. Once again, it received very positive reviews everywhere. While waiting for THE CYCLE to be released, Mehrjui filmed some documentaries, which dealt with safe blood donations and kidney transplants.
After the Iranian Revolution, the censorship of the Pahlavi regime was lifted and for the first time it seemed as if artistic freedom was possible in this country.
In 1981, Mehrjuis travelled to Paris and remained there for several years. During that period he made a documentary about the French poet Arthur Rimbaud, which was shown at the Venice Film Festival and London Film Festival. After returning to Teheran, he shot HAMOUN in 1990, which portrays an intellectual whose life is falling apart. It was voted the best Iranian film in history.
If you are as inspired as ÉCU by this Iranian director and live in Paris, go watch GAAV, the film which set of his career.