March 4, PRAGUE—The 7th Iranian Film Festival took place in Prague last month before it moved Brno to screen more films. The festival lasted for five days in Prague, with 31 films, accompanied by Iranian music evenings and cooking. The festival received exceptional attention, both by the Czechs and the Iranian community in Prague.
It was not strange to have the name “Don’t be afraid” to the festival in this particular city. The society is pretty closed here, and there’s a fear of strangers and immigrants, especially those coming from the Middle East, or those with Arabic features.
The Czech government is not seeking to alleviate these feelings but is bolstering them through various media channels. The Czech President Miloš Zeman has warned against continuing to receive refugees who threaten the security of the European world and who would not hesitate to launch a “super-holocaust” against the Europeans.
However, the screening cinemas were fully booked throughout all days of the festival, and there was no social or political barrier between Iranian cinema and its European followers.
Iranian Cinema: Free Space for Expression
A big group of short films participated in the festival, all of them directed by Iranian film students. These films were overshadowed by the themes of death and solace, as well as the social situation of Iranian women, who still resist social constants and masculine hierarchy. The films, including the longer ones, dealt with the situation of the Iranian society in a realistic manner that almost steals the viewer from his distant seat to experience the finer details and feelings.
The general theme of the festival was characterized by the inward criticism of Iran’s domestic and foreign policies. One of the presenters of the ceremony said on the opening night that the new Iranian Ministry of Education had decided to stop teaching English in schools to limit the invasion of Western cultures, but the other presenter commented that Russian would become their alternative language soon enough.
The short film Marziyeh won the jury prize for short films. It discusses the story of the newly-married young Iranian woman, who suddenly hears the news of the death of her ex-boyfriend, and goes to participate in the consolation. The film is characterized by its long silent rhythms and scenes, which allow the viewer to travel within his space to think, feel, and then meet the heroine again in the moment of truth when she collides with her reality, where she is forced to suppress her inner feelings and emotions.
Other films dealt with the disappointments faced by young Iranians, the difficulty of living, self-creation and the building of family life under the current social and economic pressures in Iran.
Along the festival, Asghar Farhadi’s film “About Elly”, a 2009 production, had a special screening night.
Elly, the girl who was invited to travel with the family of her little student, on a short trip to the seaside, mysteriously disappears on the beach, when the family leaves her to take care of the children. She gets busy as a little girl flying a kite, unaware of the little boy who was driven by the waves deep inside the sea. The family soon runs for help to save the child, and everyone gets busy with the event, not noticing the disappearance of Elly, who was not by the beach anymore when the family ran to save the child.
No one knows if she ran away, or swam to save the child and drowned. All the attempts to find her fail, and the family is forced to declare her death, without ascertaining the truth of the story.
Nothing disturbs the story of Elly’s disappearance, more than the skirmishes and accusations that the family members bring up with each other to justify the incident, and eventually, everyone tries to blame Elly herself, who is being abused by all the parties looking for her. All of the conversations revolve around the ethics of Elly and her concealment that she is a betrothed girl. The truth remains ambiguous to the viewer when someone says he found the body of a girl thrown ashore a few days later, the family decides she was Elly – without seeing her face.
The film summarizes the situation of women in Iran and the masculine superiority in dealing with them. It also clashes with the stereotypes that the society draws for single and engaged women, whom must adhere to the accepted norms regardless of their wishes and needs.
The sound of the waves of the sea accompanies the film from the scene of Elly’s disappearance to the last shot. It was always a partner of the scene, representing a recurring motive to recall the real issue of seeking Elly, not justifying her disappearance and blaming her for what happened.
Farhadi leaves the viewer in need to think deeply after watching the film, to put the appropriate end to Elly’s disappearance while letting the mind free to sympathize or believe the novels about Elly, who represents a large generation of young women trying to break the heavy constraints.
Written by Zeina Kanawati.