11. The Color of Paradise (Majid Majidi, 1999)
In Majid Majidi’s fourth film we meet Mohammed, an eight year old boy who is blind. He lives with his father Hashem, two sisters and grandmother in a small village. The story follows the plight of both Mohammed and Hashem, who is hoping to remarry following the death of his wife.
Hashem has concerns that his new wife’s family will think that having a blind son is a bad omen so he attempts to keep Mohammed’s blindness a secret. In desperation, Hashem sends Mohammed to live with a blind carpenter who agrees to train him as his apprentice. In the ensuing drama Mohammed’s grandmother dies and the films finale leaves us questioning whether Mohammed himself will live or die.
As compelling as his previous film, Children of Heaven which was nominated in the Best Foreign Language Film category at the 1998 Academy Awards, The Color of Paradise is pre-occupied with the often strained relationship between father and son. The film culminates in a moment of wretched suffering, regret, pain and revelation as Hashem lies on the banks of the river cradling his child, the burden he wished for so long to be rid of.
Compared by many to Federico Fellini’s La Strada, partially due to how the film ends, The Color of Paradise is a rich and textured portrait of family life. It features endearing performances by the whole cast and is a powerhouse of emotion that touches to the very core of who we are as humans.
12. The Day I Became a Woman (Marzieh Meshkini, 2000)
A film about three generations of women suffering at the hands of oppression and lamenting freedom, The Day I Became a Woman unfolds slowly, captivating viewers in its rich tapestry.
Following three intersecting stories we meet Havva, Ahoo and Hoora on the same beach, on the same day. Havva is a young girl on the cusp of losing her childhood, and by proxy her freedom. With the advent of her ninth birthday looming over her, Havva decides to spend one last day being a carefree child at the beach playing with her friend before she is confined to a life under a chador.
Ahoo is a strong-willed young bride who comes into conflict with her husband and other men from her village when she refuses to obey his orders. She wistfully challenges the male dominated society by engaging in a bike race with the other women along the beach where Havva plays. Our third character, Hoora has come to the end of her life and, unlike her younger counterparts, has rediscovered her freedom albeit somewhat too late.
Lyrical in its approach and opulent in its aesthetic, The Day I Became a Woman is a heart warming tale of three women who represent three stages in the life of a daughter, wife and mother – the shared female experience converging on the beach for a brief moment in time. It is a simple and important film that further demonstrates the need and the value of a strong female voice in cinema.
13. Ten (Abbas Kiarostami, 2002)
Ten, which was included in the BFI Modern Classics range in 2005, is a groundbreaking film that presents ten different conversations between a driver and her passengers to cinema audiences. The minimalist screenplay was inspired, in part, by a story about a psychiatrist who, when her offices were shut down, decided to conduct her sessions with patients in her car.
In presenting the viewer with a varied group of ‘characters’ and shooting the action via a stationary camera affixed to the dashboard without direction from Kiarostami, the film is able to communicate in ten very unique and authentic voices, an engaging analysis of modern day life in Tehran. In the words of Kiarostami himself, in the documentary Ten on 10, the film is about ‘existence which goes beyond that of a man and a woman’.
Shot entirely in digital, Ten is a personal journey for Kiarostami. After much of the footage for Taste of Cherry was ruined in the processing lab he was forced to re-shoot, where possible, and decided to do so in digital. As a result Kiarostami found that people reacted much differently to the digi cam than they did to the 35mm camera. In this moment of revelation Ten was born.
Ten is considered by many to be a reinvention of the road movie. It does so by doing away with traditional production methods and confining the action to a singular space telling a simple, unscripted story.
14. Turtles Can Fly (Bahman Gobadi, 2004)
Bahman Gobadi began his film career working on The Wind Will Carry Us with Abbas Kiarostami. His first feature film, A Time for Drunken Horses won the Camera D’or at Cannes in 2000. With his third feature, Turtles Can Fly, Gobadi once again tackled the subject of child refugees caught up in the violence of war.
Using the turtle as a metaphor for the Kurdish diaspora, the film challenges our notions of disaffection in war torn countries. The Kurds are a people who, under the weight of war, migration and genocide have managed to carve out an existence for themselves on the border between Turkey and Iraq.
Following a young boy known as Satellite who leads a gang of children, many of whom are missing limbs as a result of the numerous landmines on the border, who work together to clear the landmines and re-sell them to the UN. In a nutshell – Turtles Can Fly is a sharp and disturbing dose of reality for those of us concerned with our #firstworldproblems.
While we in the west experienced this war via our television screens, safe in our homes with our loved ones by our side, these children experience it first hand, in all its brutality and viciousness. They represent the nameless, thousands of damaged children who, desperate to survive, eke out a hellish existence for themselves. Their punishment for simply being born in a region ravaged by a war they don’t want or understand.
Turtles Can fly is a testament to the resilience of these brave children and their undying hope to one day live in peace.
15. A Separation (Asghar Farhadi, 2011)
Upon winning the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2012, A Separation realised the dream of Iranian cinema which was eloquently captured in the speech of director Asghar Farhadi. He said that many Iranians around the world are very happy in this moment ‘not because of an important award or a film or a filmmaker but because the name of their country, Iran, is spoken here in terms of its glorious culture’.
A Separation is a riveting drama about a woman who wants to leave Iran in order to find better opportunities for her daughter. Her husband refuses to go because of his father, who suffers from Alzheimer’s, requires constant care. In this decision the film turns into a much more complex and compelling story than that of the dissolution of a marriage.
Instead, it becomes a study of separation and not just between man and wife, but parent and child, creditor and debtor, employer and employee, truth and justice. A stark film in which there are no winners and no happy ending and no single person to blame. Rather, the villain of the piece, should you wish to refer to it as such, is institutional.
An accomplished and assured work, A Separation perfectly encapsulates the power of Iranian cinema and has ushered in a new generation of filmmakers who, like their predecessors, will continue to challenge and astound the rest of the world with their glorious culture.
The availability of state funding means Iranian filmmakers can develop styles free from the constraints of traditional commercial filmmaking. As a result, the films being made in Iran continue to blur the line between fiction and documentary. This makes for a much more dynamic storytelling experience for viewers and is one of the reasons why Iranian cinema continues to receive critical acclaim the world over.
Author bio: Kimberly is a Visiting Lecturer in Film Studies at the University of Wolverhampton. She runs a popular Film & TV Quiz, has a dog named Akira & enjoys playing Pac-Man. You can check out his blog: http://kimberlykenobi.tumblr.com/ and find him on Twitter @KimberlyKenobi.