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Iranian Filmmaker Golestan's Work

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For most contemporary cineastes, the Iranian Cinema consists of the work of a handful of internationally acclaimed filmmakers, whose works have become known in the last 20 or so years.  Ebrahim Golestan embodies a larger perspective, his career a window on both the longer history of Iranian Cinema and of Iran itself.

Golestan's film, A Fire, is one of three documentaries commissioned by the Iran Oil Company.  In 1958 an oil well in Ahwaz, nearing completion, exploded into flames.  The film recounts the efforts made to put out the blaze.  The complex task requires a variety of engineering efforts, some of which require improvised adjustments that show human ingenuity and persistence at work.  In this 25 minute film of the seventy-day process to extinguish the burning well, there is no shortage of drama.  While there may be no mystery surrounding the outcome, the tension lies in how it will be achieved and the potential detours and mishaps that wait en route.

The Wave, Coral and Rock details the construction of infrastructure for loading oil onto tankers.  The process entails the construction of a pipeline from the oilfield to a jetty on Kharg Island in the Persian Gulf.  The scale and complexity of the undertaking and the enormous amount of human effort entailed make it compelling to watch.  Nonetheless, there is nothing timeless about it: oil as a geopolitical, historical force is unmistakably the subject.  The difference between general attitudes about oil then and now has to be taken into account when the film lauds oil industry engineering.

Golestan's creativity and humanity are fully evident in the remarkable documentary The Hills of Marlik.  Golestan breathes a spark into ancient lives and days in the most striking way.  Bronze Age artifacts become animated via camera angles and cuts, accompanied by an evocative poetic voice-over. Millennia evaporate: crops grow, battles rage, lives pass.  An eloquent ballad to mankind's endurance and the transcendent capacity of creativity, The Hills of Marlik is a radiantly lucid film.

On to more dazzle.  Golestan's 1965 film The Iranian Crown Jewels is presented without English subtitles or voice-over:  a translation is provided to viewers. Precious jewel-encrusted this, solid gold and enamel that. The eye dazzling treasure defies verbal description: it seems to be a hoard to belong more properly in a fairy-tale, where it would rest beneath a dragon.  And, it did, according to Golestan.  He makes the glitter expose the bitter truth of corruption and decadence: “each piece of these pricy pebbles,” he says “is a telling page of the destitution the people of Iran lived in and endured.” 

Golestan's feature film The Brick and The Mirror was also made in 1965.  The black and white film opens with views of Teheran at night —a modern capital city that has vanished.  A taxi driver amuses himself by supplying his mundane to-and-fro with a self-dramatizing narration.  The man and his girlfriend, with whom he has hitherto had a casual, uncommitted sexual liaison, confront a perplexing moral dilemma.  They suddenly have to care for an abandoned infant. Their desires for commitment, for respectability, for independence are at odds and turbulence ripples between them.  Formally inventive and dramatically compelling, Golestan's film merits a place in all histories of ‘60s New Wave filmmaking.  A blunt, unblinking sequence at the end of abandoned children in an orphanage synthesizes documentary and fictional viewpoints in a fashion that prefigures the work of the next generation of master filmmakers from Iran.

The Secret of the Treasure of the Jinn Valley from 1972 is Golestan's last feature.  A comic parable in color, it tells what happens to a simple farmer when he stumbles upon trove of ancient treasure buried in a cave under one of his fields.  Golestan's many serious concerns come together in this comedy in which wealth extracted from the earth engenders greed and corruption.  There's a woozy 1960s veneer on the film, and one can speculate about the influence upon Golestan's style of a sojourn in England from 1967 to 1971.

This rare opportunity to view the films of Ebrahim Golestan brings us the gift of an artist who has steadfastly exposed many ills that have beset Iran.  He is a man with a brilliant “esteem for the mind”—a man who has lived with the type of zeal and ardor that opposes repression and destitution;  man willing to accept exile for his commitment.  Ebrahim Golestan's art is dedicated to true power, which is, in his words, “man's capacity to think.”

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