a page of madness

film writing by nicholas vroman

Tokyo Filmex 2007 – boxoffice.com blog #3

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Monday is a quiet day at Filmex. The National Film Theater is closed, so only the Yurakucho Asahi Hall is screening films. Weekend guests have departed. Only a couple of lonely Iranian producers, associated with tonight’s screening, Santuri, remain. The screening is sparsely attended. In Japan, that means only a few hundred, rather than several hundred people. By normal standards, it’s still a good crowd.

Filmex has been committed to showcasing Iranian film from its inception, over the years screening work big works by big talent (such as last year’s audience award winner, Offside, by Jafar Panahi) and breaking new talent. Santuri fits in the former category, while the new film by 19-year old Hana Makhmalbaf represents the latter.

When the lights come up after the screening of Santuri, I am left with one question.

Why are Iranian films so damn good? Even the not-very-good ones. Case in point is Santuri, by the man who can can justifiable called the inventor of contemporary Iranian cinema, Dariush Mehrjui. Mehrjui hit the scene in pre-revolutionary Iran with his 1969 opus, The Cow, with it’s heady mix of neo-realism, miserablism, humanism, and a particularly Iranian flavor, that has influenced generations of Persian filmmakers. And they seem unstoppable in pumping out beautiful, universally-themed movies that also address issues specific to Iran.

Nearing 70, Mehrjui, is still makes films with freshness and urgency. Santuri is a contemporary A Star Is Born. It features superstar, Bahram Radan. Described as the Iranian Brad Pitt, he puts in a thrilling performance as a passionate musician, a pop heartthrob singing songs of doomed love and delivering virtuoso performances on the santuri, a zither-like instrument that defines the sound of Iran. The highlife leads to alcoholism and heroin addiction, the destruction of his career and marriage,homelessness, and ultimately, rehabilitation.

It’s a classic story. One may say the same old story. And Santuri ultimately does come off a bit cliché, especially at its conclusion. Ah, but the details along the way are amazing. Genuinely thrilling music performances, a great star turn by Radan, a fully fleshed out cast of amazing character actors, and great and gritty detail – a wedding party busted up by a jilted lover’s thuggish family, a secret and illegal party of Iranian Bohemians, a camp on the outskirts of the city sheltering homeless junkies.

Day three of the festival closes. On the way home I stop at a favorite izakaya for a sake and a bite to eat. Conversation commences with three strangers at the bar, who just happen to be filmmakers. It’s great to live in a film-obsessed, small town.

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Written by Nicholas Vroman

November 20, 2007 at 2:55 am

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