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The Beginner’s Guide to Iranian Cinema

Collage Of Pictures

Four Iranian films were included in the BBC’s greatest foreign-language films of all time. Our guide to what Iranian films you should watch on Alchemiya.

By Ibraheem Ali

Intensity is a mark of Iranian art. You can see it in the elongated strokes in calligraphy. You can see it in the bold and imposing architecture with the same rich blue signature. You can feel it in the fiery passion and esoteric wisdom of Persian poetry. It could be said that Iranian Cinema as a more recent artform carries on in this tradition. Iranian films are often imbued with a dramatic depth that sparks emotion and invites introspection. Knowing where to begin in exploring Iranian film culture might seem a bit daunting for those new to the medium. 

For the uninitiated, here are just a few of the Iranian films we’d recommend starting with. 

So Far So Close (2004): 

Sad Woman Sitting In Door

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From Director Reza Mirikarimi, So Far So Close is a story of fatherhood, regret, and the beauty behind all grief. Dr. Alam is a renowned Neurologist from Tehran who’s very much engrossed in his work to the extent that he’s grown distant from his family. When he receives news that his son- who is traveling with his friends at the time- has an inoperable brain condition, Dr. Alam ventures out of his comfort zone and into the arid lands of rural Iran in an effort to reconnect with him, and along the way is met with obstacle after obstacle, trial upon trial. With richly symbolic cinematography and a moving performance by Masoud Rayegan, the film shines an optimistic light on tragedy. Ultimately, it is a parable about finding hope at the very edge of despair.

A Cube of Sugar (2011): 

Woman Looking Out Of Window

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Another film by Mirikarimi, but in stark contrast to our previous entry. Following a wedding in a quaint Iranian village, the film has Mirikarimi’s signature cinematography but with a vibrant palette that draws the viewer into the warmth of every scene, making them a part of the family itself. We see Pasandide (the bride to be) and her relatives as their small interactions unfold over the eve of her wedding as things, ironically, begin to sour. In both the highs and lows of the occasion we are given a refreshing glimpse into the beauty of traditional family life. A Cube of Sugar is a heartfelt story that’s best viewed in a gathering.

God is Close (2007): 

Man Looking Up

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Reza is a simple man with a big heart. His days consist of taxiing around his village on the back of his deceased brother’s motorcycle and spending time at the mosque musing over his teacher’s aphorisms and recitation of the Qur’an. His life takes a very different turn when he meets and immediately falls for Leila, a local school teacher. His infatuation with her quickly turns into obsession and heartbreak demanding the intervention of his loved ones. God is Close explores the dark and destructive side of human love, in contrast with the ever pure salvation in loving the Divine.

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Nooreh is an award-winning film set in a village on the India-Pakistan border. Told from the perspective of an eight-year-old Muslim girl, it is a subtle and powerful story about the effects of conflict on children.
On A Wing and A Prayer is a heart-warming documentary that follows Monem Salam's attempts to get a US pilot's license. A film about a resilient family as American and suburban as The Simpsons, but Muslim!
Short film, Nobody’s Metaphor follows four teenage Muslim girls as they learn to fence and express themselves, challenging discrimination in the process. It is a powerful documentary with much contemporary relevance, especially for our young women.
Nooreh is an award-winning film set in a village on the India-Pakistan border. Told from the perspective of an eight-year-old Muslim girl, it is a subtle and powerful story about the effects of conflict on children.
On A Wing and A Prayer is a heart-warming documentary that follows Monem Salam's attempts to get a US pilot's license. A film about a resilient family as American and suburban as The Simpsons, but Muslim!
A small community of Muslim Tzotzils, an ethnic group descended from the Maya, live in the mountains of San Cristobal in Chiapas State, Mexico. New documentary Somos Musulmanes, tells their story and explores a fundamental period in late 20th century Mexican history.

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