#298. Iran

Let’s face it: most movies today are made in America. Sure, there are plenty of Chinese, British, Japanese, and Indian films made, but it seems the vast majority come out of Hollywood. Partly because Iran isn’t necessarily in a friendly relationship with the United States, very few films are set in this Middle Eastern country. This doesn’t mean Iran doesn’t have its own film industry, it just means the films most likely to be seen by a wide audience are Americanocentric. After all, people want to watch films with characters they can relate to, and one of the ways we can relate to characters is to have them come from similar geographic areas. For people who live in Iran, films set in Iran can be quite relatable. However, sometimes Iran can be set as the “enemy’s territory” in order to provide conflict to a story. This week’s two films examine Iran as a setting.

PersepolisPersepolis
Year: 2007
Rating: PG-13
Length: 96 minutes / 1.6 hours

There is an intrinsic innocence in the point of view of a child. Because of their trusting nature, they often don’t question the events happening around them. That is until the events start to affect their lives. Since “winners” get to write history, the stories of the losing side often become lost. The somewhat recent Iranian revolution certainly affected plenty of children, but few have been able to tell their story as well as Marjane Satrapi. While technically based off of her memoir, a French graphic novel, the French film Persepolis (2007) gives an intimate look into the lives of Iranians during the most turbulent stage of political unrest their country has ever seen. Through young Marjane’s eyes, we see a family forced to succumb to the changing tide of Iran’s society and a child who is helpless to do anything about it.

In the capital city of Tehran, Marjane Satrapi (Chiara Mastroianni) is raised by parents who support the revolution to give the citizens of Iran more freedom (via communism). Unfortunately, when the Islamic Fundamentalists take control of the government, many of her freedoms are constrained. No longer can Marjane publicly enjoy her love of punk rock, heavy metal music, and other musicians contributing to her Western-leaning influence. Because of her vocal qualms with the government, she is sent to Europe by herself. Growing up away from her family, she finds that the rest of the world is prejudiced against her because of her Iranian origins. After a sickness nearly kills her, she returns to Iran to recover, only to find that the state of the country has gotten worse. With no other options available to her, she emigrates from Iran, leaving her loving family behind.

ArgoArgo
Year: 2012
Rating: R
Length: 120 minutes / 2.0 hours

Part of the reason many Iranian films are unknown to American audiences is because they have rarely been nominated for Best Foreign Film. Around 1994, Iran has submitted a film for consideration for almost every year since but has only been nominated twice. Children of Heaven (1998) was their first nomination, but their second nomination, A Separation (2011), resulted in a win. It’s difficult to know when they’ll be nominated again, but with increasing globalization we can assume the competition for the nominee spots will certainly become more difficult in each successive year. Of course, these are merely films made by Iran. The 2012 Best Picture winner, Argo, was set in Iran, even if it was an American film. As a result, the Iranians in Argo are seen as antagonists instead of protagonists.

Based on real-life events, Argo follows CIA agent Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) as he uses his expertise in exfiltration to rescue six individuals who managed to escape the hostage crisis of 1979. With the help of some Hollywood contacts, Tony starts putting together a cover for the diplomats to use and escape Tehran with little to no hassle. Posing as location scouts for a fake science fiction film, he manages to coach the six on their roles as Canadian filmmakers. Meanwhile, the Iranian revolutionaries are piecing together shredded personnel files and soon learn of the identities of the six missing hostages. Now at the airport, the Americans manage to exhibit their cover identities and board the plane toward freedom.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 Iranian settings

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#297. Independent Women

Because movies are generally produced to make money for their respective studios, one of the biggest modern challenges for films is diversity. Not only have we seen Oscar ceremonies ridiculed for their whiteness, but we often find women under-represented in film as well. This makes sense, since most films are created with the appeal toward white males between the ages of 18 and 35. As one of the target demographic, I can say this is certainly true since there are many films created each year which I find myself interested in watching for some reason or other. While it can be challenging to create films with independent women as the main focus, especially if the film wants to make lots of money, there are plenty of great films out there featuring independent women. This week’s two films examine the lives of independent women.

AmélieAmélie
Year: 2001
Rating: R
Length: 122 minutes / 2.03 hours

Perhaps the baseline test for films about independent women is the Bechdel test. A piece of fiction which features two women who talk to each other about something other than a man would pass this test. More than half of all films can pass this test, but there are at least 10% of all films that fail all three criteria. While the Bechdel test might seem like a feminist stamp of approval on a piece of media, often it is a good indicator of an excellent protagonist. Take, for instance, the French-language film, Amélie (2001), which passes the Bechdel test: the eponymous main character is interesting, imaginative, and fun . . . all without necessarily focusing on her love life. Even films like Juno (2007), which clearly include story arcs about a woman’s romantic life, can pass the Bechdel test with realistic representations of independent women.

Surrounded by a number of eccentric people at the café where she works, Amélie Poulain (Audrey Tautou) often finds herself in the world of her own imagination. Upon discovering a small box of mementos left over from the previous tenant of her apartment, she makes a decision to bring happiness to those she meets, starting with tracking down the owner of the box to return it to him. Through finding information about the box’s owner, she meets her neighbor, Raymond Dufayel (Serge Merlin), who is moved by Amélie’s goal and decides to reconcile with his estranged daughter so he can meet his grandson for the first time. While Amélie works to help those around her achieve their happiness, Raymond notices that she’s neglecting her own happiness in the process. He suggests she pursue the man she met outside a photo booth and see where the relationship could take her.

PersepolisPersepolis
Year: 2007
Rating: PG-13
Length: 96 minutes / 1.6 hours

Another similar test to the Bechdel test is known as the “Mako Mori test.” Despite Pacific Rim (2013) clearly being a film meant to attract male viewers, one of the strong, independent women (if not the only one) in the film was none other than Mako Mori (portrayed by Rinko Kikuchi), who had a very distinct and strong character arc that didn’t support any of the character’s male counterparts’ stories. While the two aforementioned films of Amélie and Juno feature independent women, both are of the Caucasian persuasion. In countries like the United States and France, women are generally seen more as equals when compared to other parts of the world like Japan or Iran. What’s even more impressive is a story about an independent woman in a location where women are seen as second class citizens. This is why Marjane Satrapi’s memoir in Persepolis (2007) is so inspiring.

Set in 1980’s Iran, we follow Marjane (voiced by Chiara Mastroianni) as she grows up through multiple revolutions. From a Czar to an Islamic state to war with Iraq, the instability of Iran causes Marjane’s parents to send her to Europe for safety. However, the fact that she is from Iran causes some tension at first, due to racial profiling and stereotypes. Eventually, her homesickness gets the better of her, and Marjane heads back to Iran. Thinking that time has changed the strict society of Iran, Marjane is disappointed to find that sentiments have largely remained the same. While her grandmother told her to be free, the only way for her to do so is to leave Iran once again, never to return.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 fantastic females