Cinema and Media Studies Iranian Cinema
by
Farshid Kazemi
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 August 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0293

Introduction

Iranian cinema first came under international attention for its prerevolutionary art cinema known as the Iranian New Wave and more widely for its postrevolutionary cinematic movement called the New Iranian Cinema. However, Iran has had a longstanding history of cinema that began in 1900, with the introduction of film technology by the Qajar court photographer Ibrahim Khan Sani al-Saltaneh Akkasbashi. The development of cinema in Iran is inextricably linked to the development of modernity and the nation-state. The cinema in Iran was an important site where modernity (tajadud) and the nation (mellat) were respectively constructed, contested, and negotiated throughout the long 20th century and into the new millennium. The history of Iranian cinema is punctuated by the two revolutions in 20th-century Iran, namely the constitutional revolution of 1905–1911 and the later Islamic Revolution in 1979. Both of these events left an indelible mark on Iran and Iranian cinema, but none more so than the Islamic Revolution. In the second Pahlavi era and just before the 1979 revolution, along with the popular commercial cinema called filmfarsi (“Persian film”), Iranian cinema witnessed the development of art-house cinema or the Iranian New Wave (mowj-e now) as a reaction to this popular cinema, which was influenced by the aesthetics of Italian Neorealism and the French New Wave. But it is largely with the New Iranian Cinema of the postrevolutionary era that Iranian cinema received worldwide critical attention, wining regular awards at prestigious film festivals around the globe. After the 1979 revolution and the establishment of the Islamic Republic, new guidelines were established by the state apparatus to ensure that films produced in Iran were made according to the logic of an Islamic “system of modesty” (hejab in its broadest sense). Paradoxically, these censorship guidelines forced Iranian filmmakers to develop a new filmic grammar, which in a constant negotiation with state censors, contributed to a new visual and aural film form that is distinctive to Iranian cinema. In this way, the history of cinema in Iran can be divided into four distinct periods, from the Qajar era to the first Pahlavi period (1900–1941), the second Pahlavi era (1942–1979), the postrevolutionary era with the Islamization of Iranian cinema (1980–1988), and the emergence of the New Iranian Cinema (1990s and early 2000s). In the early 21st century, there is a subtle but visible shift away from the formal and narrative strategies of the New Iranian Cinema. It is too early at this stage to categorize the formal logic and aesthetics of this new iteration of Iranian cinema, as we are in the midst of its development, but if the New Iranian Cinema was recognizable under the sign of its master practitioner, Abbas Kiarostami (d. 2016), the new trend in Iranian cinema is perhaps under the visible influence of the two-time Oscar-winning director Asghar Farhadi.

Reference Works

The critical and theoretical study of Iranian cinema is still in its infancy, but there is a bourgeoning scholarly literature on various aspects of Iranian cinema, albeit compared to other “national” cinemas, there is still a paucity of reference works that provide broad general surveys of the history of cinema in Iran. The Encyclopaedia Iranica articles Akrami 1991 and Gaffary 1991 are excellent introductory articles for students, with useful primary-source references. Naficy 1979 and Naficy 2001 are critical and engaging overviews of the history of Iranian cinema. Mottahedeh 2006 and Chaudhuri 2005 both provide valuable introductions to the New Iranian Cinema after the 1979 revolution. Sadr 2006 covers the political history of a century of Iranian cinema. A generally useful reference work is Jahed 2012–2017. Mehrabi 2012 is perhaps the single-best source for the history of film posters in Iran. Mottahedeh 2009 is an excellent look at the history of Iranian cinema through the lens of the senses.

General Histories

There are a number of excellent studies on the history and development of Iranian cinema. The best and most authoritative is the magisterial four-volume work Naficy 2011–2012. The edited volume Tapper 2004 is the standard introductory text for undergraduate courses, and Issa and Whitaker 1999, published by British Film Institute, is an excellent collection of essays that complements Tapper’s volume. Dabashi 2001 is a generally informative text on the history of Iranian cinema that includes director interviews. Dabashi 2007 looks at some of the most well-known directors and films of Iranian cinema. Omid 2000 is a comprehensive dictionary of Iranian cinema in Persian. Maghsoudlou 1987 is a detailed history of Iranian cinema from the beginning up to the Islamic Revolution. Issari 1989 provides a comprehensive history of Iranian cinema up to 1979. Amini 1993 considers the history of Iranian cinema through a hundred of its outstanding films.

From the Qajar Era to the First Pahlavi Era, 1900–1941

The history of Iranian cinema began in 1900, with the introduction of film technology by the Baha’i-born Ibrahim Khan Sani al-Saltaneh Akkasbashi (b. 1874–d. 1915), the court photographer of the Qajar king, Mozaffar al-Din Shah. Many of the early films in Iran were actuality films of the king and court life, and a large number of them were filmed by Ibrahim Khan Akkasbashi. During the establishment of the Pahlavi dynasty with the first Pahlavi king, Reza Khan (1925), the first feature-length films of the silent era appeared called Abi and Rabi (1931) and Haji Agha, Aktor-e sinema (Haji Agha, the Movie Actor) (1933), respectively, both directed and produced by Ovanes Ohanians, a Russian Armenian (Christian) immigrant who established the first film studio in Iran (Perse Film Studio). In this way, a multireligious and multiethnic heritage lies at the origins of cinema in Iran. As yet, there is no extensive body of literature on the various facets of the early history of Iranian cinema, but the single most significant text in English is Naficy 2011. Mottahedeh 2008 is one of the most theoretically informed interrogations of the way early history of Iranian cinema is remembered and recollected. Adl 2000 is an invaluable primary source for the study of early cinema in Iran in Persian. Gaffary 1985 is an informative, albeit brief, introduction to Ibrahim Khan Akkasbashi. Gaffary 1951 provides valuable information on the origins of Iranian cinema. Tahaminejad 2000 provides a useful account of Qajar-era cinema. Golestan 1995 traces the history of Iranian cinema from the Qajar era up to the Islamic Revolution. Askari 2014 is an invaluable discussion of silent films in Iran during the 1920s.

  • Adl, Shahriar. Ashnaye ba Sinema va Nakhostin Gamha dar Filmbardari va Filmsazi dar Iran. Tehran, Iran: Sazman-e Miras-e Farhangi-ye Keshvar, 2000.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Title translated as “Introduction to the cinema and the first steps in filmmaking and cinematography in Iran.” One of the best primary sources in Persian on the history and development of early cinema in Iran. In Persian.

    Find this resource:

  • Askari, Kaveh. “An Afterlife for Junk Prints: Serials and Other ‘Classics’ in Late-1920s Tehran.” In Silent Cinema and the Politics of Space. Edited by Jennifer M. Bean, Anupama Kapse, and Laura Horak, 99–120. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2014.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A discussion of the silent era in Iranian cinema where the main flow of films to Iran were from Russia at first.

    Find this resource:

  • Gaffary, Farrokh. “Avalin azmayesha-ye sinema’i dar Iran.” Majalla-ye ‘alam-e honar 25 (1951).

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Title translated as “The first cinematic experiments in Iran.” Gaffary traces the first cinematic experiments and techniques in Iran. In Persian.

    Find this resource:

  • Gaffary, Farrokh. “Akkas-Basi.” In Ab–Anahid. Vol. 1 of Encyclopaedia Iranica. Edited by Ehsan Yarshater, 719. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1985.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A concise but valuable summary of the life of Mirza Ibrahim Khan Akkasbashi.

    Find this resource:

  • Golestan, Shahrokh. Fanus-e Khiyal: Sargozasht-e Sinema-ye Iran az Aghaz ta Enqelab-e Eslami Beh Ravayat-e Bibisi. Tehran, Iran: Entesharat-e Kavir, 1995.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Title translated as “Magic lantern: The history of Iranian cinema from the beginning to the Islamic Revolution according to BBC.” A sixteen-part BBC documentary program made in 1994 in Persian, with the script later published as a text, covering the history of Iranian cinema from its earliest inception in the Qajar era to the Islamic Revolution.

    Find this resource:

  • Mottahedeh, Negar. “Collection and Recollection: On Studying the Early History of Motion Pictures in Iran.” Early Popular Visual Culture 6.2 (2008): 103–120.

    DOI: 10.1080/17460650802150374Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Mottahedeh looks at the first thirty years of Iranian cinema, and on how the birth of filmic technologies are historically constituted and recollected. The author argues that the recording, transmission, recitation, and remembrance of the historical past matters in the way in which we recollect the early history of cinema in Iran.

    Find this resource:

  • Naficy, Hamid. A Social History of Iranian Cinema. Vol. 1, The Artisanal Era, 1897–1941. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This is the most comprehensive history of early cinema in Iran, both silent and talkies, covering its origins in the Qajar era, up to the first Pahlavi era.

    Find this resource:

  • Tahaminejad, Mohammad. “Dowreh-e Qajar: Mozaffar al-Din Shah va Mirza Ebrahim Khan Akkasbashi.” In Tarikh-e Tahlili-ye Sad Sal Sinema-ye Iran. Edited by Abbas Baharlu. Tehran, Iran: Daftar-e Pazhuheshha-ye Farhangi, 2000.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Discusses the introduction of film technology to Iran during the Qajar era and the role of Mozzaffar al-Din Shah and Mirza Ibrahim Khan Akkasbashi. In Persian.

    Find this resource:

The Second Pahlavi Era, 1942–1979: From Filmfarsi to the Iranian New Wave

The second Pahlavi era (1941–1979) can broadly be distinguished by two types of filmic productions in Iran. The first was the popular commercial cinema pejoratively called filmfarsi (Persian films), consisting mostly of stew-pot melodramas (abgooshti) or tough-guy films (luti or jaheli), largely song-and-dance films or melodramas influenced by Hollywood and Bollywood Indian films. The second was art cinema, or the Iranian New Wave (mowj-e now), that developed at the end of the 1960s and the 1970s as a reaction to the earlier filmfarsi films and that was influenced by the aesthetics of Italian Neorealism, with rural settings, nonprofessional actors, and often with a subversive critique of socioeconomic conditions and the political climate of the Pahlavi state.

Filmfarsi

There is no comprehensive history of filmfarsi at present, and most of the critical scholarship on the subject is negative, seeing it only as second-rate derivatives of Hollywood films for mass entertainment, without any political or social significance. The only text that has problematized this broad scholarly consensus on filmfarsi is the excellent work Partovi 2017. At the other end of the spectrum is Tahami Nezhad 1986, which is perhaps the most sophisticated critique of filmfarsi. Omid 1998 is an indispensible primary source for the student of filmfarsi. Naficy 2011 is one of the first English-language works that has an extensive treatment of popular commercial cinema. Mo‘azezi niya 1999 is a collection of articles that centers around the question: What is filmfarsi? Najafi 1986 provides a valuable analysis of the stock narrative tropes operative in filmfarsi. Pardo 2004 argues that the female characters in commercial prerevolutionary Iranian cinema represented the future direction of the nation. Atwood 2016 provides excellent analysis of the representation of sex in 1970s Iranian cinema. Mehrabi 1988 is one of the best Persian-language texts on the history of Iranian cinema up to 1979.

  • Atwood, Blake. “When the Sun Goes Down: Sex, Desire and Cinema in 1970s Tehran.” Asian Cinema 27.2 (2016): 127–150.

    DOI: 10.1386/ac.27.2.127_1Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A much-needed and informative discussion on the way sex and desire were staged in Iranian cinema in the 1970s.

    Find this resource:

  • Mehrabi, Massoud. Tarikh-e sinema-yi Iran: Az aghaz ta sal-e 1357. Tehran, Iran: Film Publication, 1988.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Title translated as “The history of Iranian cinema: From the beginning until 1979.” Contains extended section on popular Iranian cinema (pp. 50–184) where the author critiques some of the salient features of filmfarsi such as, overt scenarios for staging sex scenes, cheap cabaret song-and-dance numbers that objectify women, and the often valorization of violence and male honor as represented by idealized images of Tehran’s old quarters. In Persian.

    Find this resource:

  • Mo‘azezi niya, Hosain, ed. Filmfarsi Chist? Tehran, Iran: Nashr-e Saqi, 1999.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Title translated as “What is filmfarsi?” A number of valuable articles on filmfarsi, albeit with the usual criticisms. In Persian.

    Find this resource:

  • Naficy, Hamid. A Social History of Iranian Cinema. Vol. 2, The Industrializing Years, 1941–1978. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Fills a major gap in the scholarly literature on Iranian cinema. Naficy covers various aspects of filmfarsi, or popular commercial cinema, and especially critiques the representation of male power and masculinity (see especially chapters 3, 4, and 5). Partovi’s recent work demonstrates that filmfarsi is more complex and deserves serious critical scrutiny beyond the usual negative stereotypes as cheap mass entertainment.

    Find this resource:

  • Najafi, Behrad. “Film in Iran, 1900–1979: A Political and Cultural Analysis.” PhD diss., Universitet Stockholms, 1986.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The author critically discusses and analyzes some of the characteristic narrative structures deployed in filmfarsi.

    Find this resource:

  • Omid, Jamal. Tarikh-e Cinema-ye Iran: 1279–1357. Tehran, Iran: Entesharat-e Roozaneh, 1998.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Title translated as “The history of Iranian cinema: 1900–1978.” One of the most authoritative histories and sourcebooks for prerevolutionary Iranian cinema in Persian, which contains indispensable information on filmfarsi.

    Find this resource:

  • Pardo, Eldad J. “Iranian Cinema, 1968–1978: Female Characters and Social Dilemmas on the Eve of the Revolution.” Eastern Studies 40.3 (2004): 29–54.

    DOI: 10.1080/0026320042000213447Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    As with his monograph-length study, Predicting Revolutions: Iranian Cinema and the Islamic Revolution (2010), the author argues that the types of female characters represented in Iranian popular cinema “predicted” the coming of the Islamic Revolution.

    Find this resource:

  • Partovi, Pedram. Popular Iranian Cinema before the Revolution: Family and Nation in Filmfarsi. London and New York: Routledge, 2017.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The only full-length, English-language work on filmfarsi based on the authors PhD dissertation, which also problematizes some of the negative stereotypes and clichés about filmfarsi and its audiences.

    Find this resource:

  • Tahami Nezhad, Mohammad. Sinema-ye ru’yapardaz-e Iran: Halqeh’ie dar zanjirah-ye khiyalbandan. Tehran, Iran: Aks-e Mu‘asir, 1986.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The author provides a nuanced critique and assessment of filmfarsi in Persian.

    Find this resource:

Iranian New Wave

The art film movement in Iran developed in the decades of the 1960s and 1970s and came to be known as the Iranian New Wave, also sometimes called film-e azad (Independent cinema). The aesthetic qualities and cinematic techniques that helped create the Iranian New Wave were influenced by Italian Neorealism and the French New Wave, but the New Wave filmmakers developed their own distinctive style, informed by a visual poetics and grammar that brought together the rich history of Iranian art forms, such as Iranian drama (taziyeh), poetry, and visual culture. It is with the Iranian New Wave, and such films as Forugh Farrokhzad’s Khaneh siyah ast (The house is black) (1962) and Darioush Mehrjui’s Gav (Cow) (1969), that Iranian cinema first garnered critical international attention and won international awards. A single, comprehensive history of prerevolutionary Iranian New Wave remains a desideratum, but a number of significant scholarly and theoretically sophisticated texts have began to appear. Saljoughi 2015, Saljoughi 2017a, and Saljoughi 2017b are perhaps the most theoretically sophisticated analysis of New Wave films and filmmakers. Naficy 2011 considers the Iranian New Wave as a politically dissident cinema. Nassibi 1994 is an excellent assessment of the crucial decade of the development of the Iranian New Wave. Mirsepassi and Faraji 2017 looks at the way New Wave cinema represented a subtle but affective cultural transformation that the authors designate a “quiet revolution.” Rekabtalaei 2015 provides an analysis of “alter-cinema” as a way to counter popular commercial cinema, or filmfarsi.

  • Mirsepassi, Ali, and Mehdi Faraji. “Iranian Cinema’s ‘Quiet Revolution,’ 1960–1978.” Middle East Critique 26.4 (2017): 397–415.

    DOI: 10.1080/19436149.2017.1371529Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An analysis of films produced in the two decades prior to the 1979 revolution. The article argues that these decades saw the development of a new art cinema, or the Iranian New Wave, that represented a “quiet revolution,” which was in dialogue with other politically subversive discourses of the time, such as Jalal Al-e Ahmad’s theorization of Westoxification (gharbzadegi).

    Find this resource:

  • Naficy, Hamid. A Social History of Iranian Cinema. Vol. 2, The Industrializing Years, 1941–1978. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Chapter 6 contains an articulation of the Iranian New Wave as dissident cinema.

    Find this resource:

  • Nassibi, Bassir. Dah Sal Sinema-ye Azad-e Iran (1969–1979). Saarbrücken, Germany: n.p., 1994.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Title translated as “Ten years of independent cinema in Iran (1969–1979).” A very useful discussion of the decade in which the Iranian New Wave developed. In Persian.

    Find this resource:

  • Rekabtalaei, Golbarg. “Cinematic Revolution: Cosmopolitan Alter-cinema of Pre-revolutionary Iran.” Iranian Studies 48.4 (2015): 567–589.

    DOI: 10.1080/00210862.2014.895539Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The author discusses New Wave cinema and designates it as “alter-cinema,” which developed due to a number of young Iranian filmmakers as a reaction to filmfarsi, or the commercial popular cinema at the time; much like the development of the French New Wave (La Nouvelle Vague) from the critique of the so-called High Quality style in French cinema.

    Find this resource:

  • Saljoughi, Sara. “Burning Visions: The Iranian New Wave and the Politics of the Image, 1962–1979.” PhD diss., University of Minnesota, 2015.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This is one of the best and theoretically informed analysis of the Iranian New Wave that brings the tools of film theory to bear on its subject. Saljoughi discusses the period between 1962 until the Islamic Revolution in 1979, through the prism of ten New Wave directors and films, such as Farrokhzad, Kamran Shirdel, and Fereydoun Rahnema, among others. She contends that the social history of Iran during this period and its present status is impossible to understand without the New Wave.

    Find this resource:

  • Saljoughi, Sara. “A New Form for a New People: Forugh Farrokhzad’s The House Is Black.” Camera Obscura: Feminism, Culture, and Media Studies 32.1 (2017a): 1–31.

    DOI: 10.1215/02705346-3661982Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The author examines the problem of collectivity in the modernist female poet Forugh Farrokhzad’s film set in a leper colony, deploying Pier Paolo Pasolini’s theory of the poetics of cinema to read the film. The article argues that a new audiovisual regime was utilized in this film that provided the contours of a new cinematic grammar for the future development of a new film form in Iranian cinema.

    Find this resource:

  • Saljoughi, Sara. “A Cinema of Refusal: The Sealed Soil and the Political Aesthetics of the Iranian New Wave.” Feminist Media Histories 3.1 (Winter 2017b): 81–102.

    DOI: 10.1525/fmh.2017.3.1.81Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The article discusses the little-known film The Sealed Soil (1977) by the prerevolutionary female filmmaker Marva Nabili. Saljoughi contends that the logic of the “distanced look” that many critics associate with postrevolutionary New Iranian Cinema after 1979 begins here.

    Find this resource:

Postrevolutionary Cinema: From Islamic Cinema to the New Iranian Cinema

Just prior to the 1979 Revolution and the establishment of the Islamic Republic, the popular commercial cinema of the Pahlavi era (filmfarsi) had been seen as a source of moral corruption (fesad) on Iranian youth, and Western (United States) imperialist encroachment. Many of the theaters in Iran were burned on the eve of the revolution, with the burning of Cinema Rex in Abadan as the quintessential example, where more than three hundred filmgoers perished in the fire. Ayatollah Rouhallah Khomeini, the political and spiritual leader of the Islamic Revolution, later declared that he was not intrinsically opposed to cinema and that the cinema could be mobilized to propagate Islamic values and the values of the revolution. Therefore, in 1982 the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance (vezarat-e farhang va ershad-e islami) was instituted in order to ensure that, henceforward, films made in Iran were to be produced according to the codes and conventions of an Islamic “system of modesty” (hejab, veiling in its broadest sense). Paradoxically, these new censorship regulations forced Iranian filmmakers to create a new filmic grammar and auditory and visual syntax, which in a constant negotiation with state censors, contributed to a new audiovisual aesthetics that gave rise to the New Iranian Cinema of the late 1980s and 1990s.

Islamic Cinema

The new Islamic guidelines under the Islamic Republic, as well as the suturing of the logic of the veil into the formal and narrative structure of Iranian cinema, was mainly directed toward the representation of women on screen. These guidelines were to control the ways in which women’s bodies were to be staged on screen. Women were to be portrayed wearing veils, headscarves, and loose-fitting clothing that obscured the contours of their bodies. The rules were to ensure that women’s movements on the screen would not frame their bodies in a sexually charged manner. The guidelines also sought to proscribe the visual field by the “commandment of looking” (ahkam-e negah kardan), which was to ensure that unrelated men and women do not look at each other on screen with a desiring gaze. In this way, the Islamization of cinema during this period meant that there was, for a time, an almost total absence of women in Iranian cinema. Naficy 2004 looks at the Islamization of film culture in Iran. Jabbaran 1999 is a collection of Shiʿi legal opinion on what is permissible and not permissible in Iranian cinema. Dabashi 1998 examines how censorship codes in Islamic cinema effectively erased the female body from the screen during this period. Naficy 1995 and Mirbakhtyar 2006 are an analysis of the effects of the Islamic Republic on Iranian cinema. Naficy 1999 looks at the way the censorship regulations impacted the representation of women in Iranian cinema. Naficy 2011 provides the most comprehensive discussion of what the author calls the “Islamicate Period.”

  • Dabashi, Hamid. “Body‐less Faces: Mutilating Modernity and Abstracting Women in an ‘Islamic Cinema.’” Visual Anthropology 10.2–4 (1998): 361–380.

    DOI: 10.1080/08949468.1998.9966739Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A good analysis of the way in which the new censorship regulations of an Islamic cinema abstracted women from the screen image whereby they were represented at times only as absent presences or through their “body parts.”

    Find this resource:

  • Jabbaran, Mohammad Reza. Sinama dar ayine-ye fiqh. Tehran, Iran: Pazhuhishgah-e farhang va honar-e Islami, 1999.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Title translated as “Cinema in the mirror of jurisprudence.” An important text on Shi‘ite jurisprudential or legal (figh) opinions on what is religiously acceptable and unacceptable on the cinematic screen. It contains elaborate proscriptions on the representation of women, female and male relationships, sexuality, etc. The text is now completely out of print in Iran due to some of its controversial material. In Persian, with Arabic.

    Find this resource:

  • Mirbakhtyar, Shahla. Iran Cinema and the Islamic Revolution. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2006.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A good overview of the impact of the Islamic Revolution on Iranian cinema.

    Find this resource:

  • Naficy, Hamid. “Iranian Cinema under the Islamic Republic.” American Anthropologist, New Ser. 97.3 (1995): 548–558.

    DOI: 10.1525/aa.1995.97.3.02a00130Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An excellent examination of the way the logic of the “modesty system” (veiling) affected the formal logic of Iranian cinema.

    Find this resource:

  • Naficy, Hamid. “Veiled Vision/Powerful Presences: Women in Post-revolutionary Iranian Cinema.” In Life and Art: The New Iranian Cinema. Edited by Rose Issa and Sheila Whitaker, 44–65. London: British Film Institute, 1999.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Naficy provides one of the best and informed analyses of the colossal effects of Islamic regulations on Iranian films, especially in their representation of women.

    Find this resource:

  • Naficy, Hamid. “Islamizing Film Culture in Iran: A Post-Khatami Update.” In The New Iranian Cinema: Politics, Representation, and Identity. Edited by Richard Tapper, 26–65. London: I. B. Tauris, 2004.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The author updates his earlier analysis of the impact of the Islamization of film culture up to the post-Khatami era (1997–2005).

    Find this resource:

  • Naficy, Hamid. A Social History of Iranian Cinema. Vol. 3, The Islamicate Period, 1978–1984. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    One of the most comprehensive treatments of the transformation of Iranian cinema under the Islamic Republic during this period. The term “Islamic” instead of “Islamicate” is more accurate in this context. The term was coined by Marshall Hodgson to speak of “Islamicate civilization” as a unique confluence of various cultures/civilizations, but the Islamic Republic cannot be considered a confluence in the sense Hodgson intended.

    Find this resource:

New Iranian Cinema

The postrevolutionary art cinema called the New Iranian Cinema must be distinguished from the prerevolutionary Iranian New Wave, which is often conflated into a single movement, or referred to as the First Wave (pre-revolution) and Second Wave (post-revolution), respectively. Although many of the filmmakers of the New Wave continued to make films in the postrevolutionary era (i.e., Bahram Beyzaie, Abbas Kiarostami, Darioush Mehrjui), there are certain continuities between the neorealist themes and techniques of pre- and postrevolutionary art cinema, such as the use of nonprofessional actors, rural settings, location shooting, and a poetic and humanist vision; yet the establishment of the Islamic Republic completely transformed Iranian society and cinematic culture, effectuating a significant rupture between the two film movements, not least due to the Islamic regulations and censorship codes that became normative in this period. Ironically, much of the new film form techniques that developed in the New Iranian Cinema represented a subversion of certain features of dominant or Hollywood cinema (i.e., the absence of the male gaze, etc.) that came to be the distinguishing feature of this cinema. The single-most theoretically sophisticated text on postrevolutionary Iranian cinema is Mottahedeh 2008. Kazemi 2018 provides the first theorization of the formal structure of the voice operative in the New Iranian Cinema. Erfani 2012 is the first mutually productive encounter between Iranian cinema and (Western) philosophy. Atwood 2016 presents a new term, “reform cinema,” to define the post-Khatami Iranian cinema. Chaudhuri and Finn 2006 provides a poetic realist reading of the New Iranian Cinema. Naficy 2012 is a social history of the New Iranian Cinema, with theoretical insight interspersed throughout the text. Sheibani 2011 brings together the rich world of Persian poetics and Iranian cinema. Decherney and Atwood 2014 is a recent collection of articles that look at Iranian cinema in a global context. Chaudhuri and Finn 2006 provides an analysis of poetic realism in the New Iranian Cinema.

  • Atwood, Blake. Reform Cinema in Iran: Film and Political Change in the Islamic Republic. New York: Columbia University Press, 2016.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The author provides a new reading of post-Khatami cinema in Iran by problematizing the overarching term “post-revolutionary cinema” for all films that were made after the revolution. He suggests that the cinema in the Khatami era was a “reform cinema” that spawned its own unique set of aesthetics.

    Find this resource:

  • Chaudhuri, Shohini, and Howard Finn. “The Open Image: Poetic Realism and the New Iranian Cinema.” In Screening World Cinema. Edited by Catherine Grant and Annette Kuhn, 163–181. London and New York: Routledge, 2006.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The authors demonstrate the way in which the New Iranian Cinema is informed by a poetic realist sensibility.

    Find this resource:

  • Decherney, Peter, and Blake Atwood, eds. Iranian Cinema in a Global Context: Policy, Politics, and Form. London and New York: Routledge, 2014.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An excellent collection of articles on various aspects of Iranian cinema.

    Find this resource:

  • Erfani, Farhang. Iranian Cinema and Philosophy: Shooting Truth. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.

    DOI: 10.1057/9781137012920Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An engaging encounter between Iranian cinema and Western philosophy, including two chapters that employ Lacanian psychoanalytic theory.

    Find this resource:

  • Kazemi, Farshid. “The Object-Voice: The Acousmatic Voice in the New Iranian Cinema.” Camera Obscura: Feminism, Culture, and Media Studies 33.2 (2018): 56–81.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The author provides a new theorization of the logic of the female voice in Iranian cinema. Deploying Michel Chion’s theory of the acousmatic voice, as well as Lacan’s concept of the object-voice, the author demonstrates that a new auditory regime is operative in the formal structure of the New Iranian Cinema in contrast to the female voice in classical Hollywood.

    Find this resource:

  • Mottahedeh, Negar. Displaced Allegories: Post-revolutionary Iranian Cinema. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008.

    DOI: 10.1215/9780822381198Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This is an excellent theoretical analysis of the unique film form in the New Iranian Cinema. Deploying feminist psychoanalytic gaze theory, Mottahedeh is able to claim that many of the formal aspects of Hollywood cinema are absent from the New Iranian Cinema, such as the male gaze.

    Find this resource:

  • Naficy, Hamid. A Social History of Iranian Cinema. Vol. 4. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A historical and theoretical study of the formal and narrative strategies in the New Iranian Cinema.

    Find this resource:

  • Sheibani, Khatereh. The Poetics of Iranian Cinema: Aesthetics, Modernity, and Film after the Revolution. London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2011.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Sheibani reads the New Iranian Cinema through the prism of Persian classical poetry.

    Find this resource:

Themes and Motifs in Iranian Cinema

There are a number of themes and motifs that run through postrevolutionary Iranian cinema that often function as recurring themes both at the level of narrative and form. In this section, some of these thematic motifs will be outlined.

The Blurring of Reality and Fiction

The films of the most renowned auteur of Iranian cinema, Abbas Kiarostami, can be used as examples of the most distinctive techniques that became one of the unique characteristics of the New Iranian Cinema, namely the symbiosis or blurring of fiction and documentary, fact, and fantasy, or what Hamid Dabashi has termed, “factasy.” Saeedvafa and Rosenbaum 2003 looks at the cinema of Abbas Kiarostami and its distinctive features. Mulvey 1998 sees Kiarostami’s cinema as a modern cinema of uncertainty. Copjec 2006 looks at the philosophical and psychoanalytic logic of shame through Kiarostami’s film The Wind Will Carry Us (1999). Mottahedeh 2004 provides an answer to the question, “Where are Kiarostami’s women?” Andrew 2005 is an excellent text in the British Film Institute classic series dedicated to Kiarostami’s 10. Elena 2005 is an indispensable resource on the cinema of Abbas Kiarostami. Saljoughi 2012 analyzes the critique and proscription on visuality in Kiarstami’s Shirin. Butler 2012 provides a Lacanian reading of the films of Kiarostami.

Desire and Sexuality

After the Islamic Revolution and the establishment of new censorship codes and conventions to regulate Iranian films according to the logic of the modesty system (hejab), one of the most significant changes that occurred was the representation of love, sexuality, and desire on screen. New formal techniques were developed during this period in order to obliquely allude to sexuality and desire. For example, a variety of substitutes, such as children, animals, doubles, third parties, and objects (i.e., pieces of clothing) were used to mediate between male and female characters in representing (heterosexual) erotic intimacy that otherwise could not be represented on screen. Haeri 2009 provides an excellent reading of the way the erotic is subtly structured in the New Iranian Cinema. Mir-Hosseini 2007 discusses how the representation of women and sexual love were negotiated in Iranian cinema in the postrevolutionary period. Ganjavie 2016 looks at how censorship codes effected the representation of love and sex. Yaghoobi 2016 is a consideration of the way sexuality is staged through a female character in a film. Mottahedeh 2016 is a poetic reading of love and intimacy in Iranian cinema of the post-revolution. Partovi 2017 is an examination of the constitution of love in Persianate cinemas.

Women and Femininity

As mentioned in Postrevolutionary Cinema: From Islamic Cinema to the New Iranian Cinema, the new Islamic codes and conventions of the modesty system (veiling) instituted by the Islamic Republic completely changed and transformed the representation of women in Iranian cinema and advocated a traditional form of femininity in line with Islamic values. It is precisely for this reason that a large number of studies have focused on issues of women and gender in their analysis of Iranian cinema. Lahiji 2004 looks at the way women were represented via a binary opposition as either chaste or unchaste “dolls.” Moore 2005 is an examination of gendered and cultural representations of women in Iranian cinema. Mahani 2006 considers the representation of women in the little-studied popular Iranian cinema of the post-revolution. Naficy 1999 is one of the best analyses of the effects of the censorship regulations on the representation of women in postrevolutionary cinema. Moruzzi 2001 is a feminist critique of the representation of women in Iranian films. Rezai-Rashti 2007 examines some films that transcend the limitations imposed on the representation of women. Naghibi 2007 provides an excellent discussion of homosociality in Iranian feminist films. Langford 2007 provides a feminist reading of The Day I Became a Woman.

Men and Masculinity

The study of men and masculinity in Iranian cinema is in its infancy, as most of the research on gender and sexuality has focused on women and femininity and the problems of female representation (i.e., veiling, etc.). The term “masculinity” as an analytic category in cinema studies is a recent phenomenon in general and just emerging in relation to the study of Iranian cinema where older traditional concepts of “manhood” and “manliness” prevail. In this respect, very little attention has been paid to the representation and constructions of masculinity in Iranian cinema or the ideological production and valorization of traditional forms of masculinities. Naficy 2011 discusses the tough-guy cinema and its representation of masculinity. Pak-Shiraz 2017 is a sophisticated analysis of the isolation and marginality of masculinities in some examples of postrevolutionary Iranian cinema. Armbrust 2000 looks at the prerevolutionary tough-guy genre through the prism of one of its stars. Gow 2016 provides a valuable discussion of the construction of masculinity in Iranian cinema. Kohn 2013 is a useful discussion of a western genre Iranian film and the construction of masculinities in westerns.

Queer or LGBTQ Iranian Cinema

The scholarly examination of nonnormative genders, bodies, and queer sexualities in Iranian cinema is also in its infancy. There is ample room for theoretical analysis of films that contain either subtle or clear representations of transgendered bodies, gender masquerading, same-sex desire or homoeroticism, gender and sexual ambiguity, cross-dressing, and transvestism in several postrevolutionary Iranian films that subtly subvert, transgress, and critique the “normalizing” discourses of heteronormative bodies, genders, and sexualities in Iran. The filmic representation of these bodies is often through female characters that are gender masquerading as male, often with their heads shaved and unveiled. One of the best theoretical articles to examine issues of gender passing and transgender representation is Kheshti 2009. Vanzan 2014 is a valuable discussion of the LGBTQ question in Iranian cinema. Moallem 2005 provides several queer readings of postrevolutionary Iranian films, and Houshyar 2013 is a good appraisal of recent queer and trans representations in Iranian cinema.

Children and Allegory

One of the distinctive features of postrevolutionary Iranian cinema was the proliferation of children’s films and their allegorical significance in representing adult themes and issues that could not be otherwise staged on screen. Children were often used as a proxy to stage intimacy or other sociopolitical problems that could not otherwise be addressed directly, such as poverty, class struggle, social inequality, etc. Despite the amount of children protagonists in postrevolutionary films, there has been little scholarly and theoretical studies examining these films. Sadr 2004 provides one of the early discussions of the appearance of children in postrevolutionary Iranian cinema. Lawrence Houck 2015 examines the way the representation of children can shed light on visions of the future of Iranian society. Hosseini-Shakib 2012 is an essay on the image of children in Iranian cinema.

War or the Cinema of Sacred Defense

One of the important sites for the analysis of the Islamic Republic’s ideology is the production of films on war and martyrdom (shahadat). This is achieved through what is called the Cinema of Sacred Defense (sinama-yi difa’-yi muqaddas), in which the Islamic Republic seeks to stage the mystical and transformative power of the Iran-Iraq War (1980–1988). Since much of the study of Iranian cinema has focused on the art cinema, a critical examination of popular Iranian cinema and especially the cinema of sacred defense has lagged far behind. There is however a growing body of scholarly examination of the cinema of sacred defense. Devictor 2015 and Devictor 2004 are two noteworthy studies of the cinema of sacred defense. Partovi 2008 provides a good analysis of martyrdom in some examples of comedies in sacred defense cinema. A collection of articles of uneven quality is Khosronejad 2012. Abecassis 2011 is a study of the sacred defense in light of myths and religion and the paradoxical dialectic of the traumatic and aesthetic often operative in them. Varzi 2002 provides an analysis of war and martyrdom in Iranian war cinema. Langford 2012 is an astute reading of gender operative in the cinema of sacred defense.

Religion and Spirituality

Since the establishment of the Islamic Republic, a body of films have emerged that focus on religious and spiritual themes, from biblical and Qurʾanic epics to the representation of Shiʿi holy figures (Imams) and sacred history, as well as films with either subtle or overt Sufi and mystical symbolism and motifs. The best study on the representation of Shiʿism in Iranian cinema is Pak-Shiraz 2011. For Qurʾanic epics in Iranian cinema, Pak-Shiraz 2016 is an excellent example. O’Dell 2015 is an excellent reading of the representation of disability in Iranian cinema as symbols of spiritual possibility. Pak-Shiraz 2007 examines the role of Shiʿi clergy in Iranian comedies.

Documentary Films

There is a long-standing production of documentary films in (and about) Iran, but as with many other aspects of Iranian cinema, most of the scholarly attention has gone toward the analysis of Iranian art cinema. However, there are notable exceptions to the general scholarly silence on documentaries. Naficy 2011 is one of the best overviews on documentary films in Iran. Golmakani 1997 examines the resurgence of documentary filmmaking in Iran. Griffiths 2015 is a look at Panahi’s documentary This Is Not a Film. Emami 2003 is a critical analysis of the study of documentary cinema in Iran. Tahaminejad 2005 is a discussion of the image of Iran in early documentary films. Mehrabi 1996 is an excellent dictionary of Iranian documentary films. Friedlander 2015 is a Lacanian reading of Panahi’s documentary film. Mottahedeh 2017 is a look at sponsored documentary films on oil in Iran.

back to top

Article

Up

Down