The Lady (1992, Dariush Mehrjui)

This film was banned by Iranian authorities for no declared reason, then released six years later, uncut, again for no reason. Also no reason why, a decade later, its director came to Emory to present it in person followed by a confrontational Q&A. Screening was packed – must’ve been every Iranian-Atlantan in that building at once.

Banoo (Miriam, “The Lady”) is left by her international-businessman husband (who has been having an affair abroad with a younger woman), frightened to be in the huge house by herself. Meanwhile, her neighbor the groundskeeper and his pregnant, sick, bitchy wife, are kicked out of their shack and she invites them to move in. They invite other family members, including a friendly young woman with babies, and one of their fathers, Khan Salar, a good cook but a habitual liar and thief. The maid quits and the poor family takes over the rich house (a la Viridiana). Banoo is pleased with her new family, and they have a lovely feast of a dinner one night, the peak of happiness in the movie.

After that, it’s all downhill, mostly because Khan Salar starts stealing everything in the house and selling it with his crooked partner, while Banoo retreats upstairs into a daze and stops eating or talking to anyone. She’s friends with a doctor, who says he always wanted to marry her, but she acts strangely cold towards him in the second half and never tries to get his non-medical help. Finally the husband comes home, pays off everybody to leave permanently, and tries to fix up his wife.

Also watched 30-minute Dear Cousin Is Lost from a 2000 compilation film (involving M. Makhmalbaf), which the director claims is his favorite work because it’s more freeform, with a more experimental narrative than his others. A movie is being filmed, but the director is fretting over the shot of an actor on a high tower at the beach, yelling for him not to allow the despair of the sunset to reflect in his eyes. Actor, meanwhile, spaces out on his long-lost girl who disappeared into the sea. She reappears as a ghost, wanders around with him while the movie crew wonders why their actor has just died up on the tower. As paramedics are rising to bring his body down, he returns, wakes up. I don’t think the director gets his shot, though. Oh, and there’s dream-logic stuff about stealing electronic equipment and getting in fights.

Director got upset at people who think the characters in the movie represent all of Iran, who suggest the lead female character wasn’t strong & independent enough, and who ask what he thinks of other Iranian filmmakers, but still managed not to come off as cranky. I enjoyed the interview and the movies.

Ezzatolah Entezami (played old guy Khan Salar) starred in M. Makhmalbaf’s Once Upon a Time, Cinema the same year, and Mehrjui’s debut feature The Cow in 1969. Guy who played the doctor is better known as a cinematographer – shot Offside, The Wind Will Carry Us, Salaam Cinema, and the short we just watched. Banoo herself only in a few other movies, including Mehrjui’s earlier Hamoun. Screening was dedicated to Khosro Shakibai, an actor who played the lead(?) in the short and the husband in The Lady, who died in July of this year.

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