This week, we've been looking at the role of illegal drugs in nations around the world. And now we'll turn our attention to the nation with the highest rate of heroin addiction in the world - Iran. Today in his regular film commentary,
Films about drugs can be quickly reduced to formulas. In some films, drug use leads to a psychedelic experience – best illustrated by the 1970s drive-in movies of the Roger Corman era. There are also more serious attempts to depict altered states of consciousness like Alain Resnais' Je t'aime je t'aime or Ken Russell's Altered States.
In a second category, a filmmaker tries for a realistic or a hyper-realistic depiction of the drug lifestyle; Trainspotting comes to mind.
The third group of films tries to penetrate the psychological and social issues which are at the root of drug addiction – filtering the experience through a humanistic lens. It is this third category which Iranian filmmakers have largely adopted.
The most recent victim of censorship is Dariush Mehrjui, one of the founders of contemporary Iranian cinema, and his film Santouri. The censors wanted certain scenes with the film's female protagonist, Hanieh, removed, and there was a rumor that they objected to Mehrjui's use of the name Ali for a drug addict, because this is also the name of the first Imam and son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammad. The subject of Santouri is a successful musician who falls to heroin addiction and ends up among
Rakshan Bani-Etemad, a leading woman filmmaker with an extensive career of features and documentaries, has focused on the issues of drug use in both documentaries and narrative films. In an interview with
In Bani-Etemad's most recent feature film, Mainline, she focuses on a middle-class Iranian family. Sara, the protagonist, is a bride-to-be who gets cold feet just before the wedding. The mother, Sima, figures out what's going on. Despite Sara receiving regular methadone treatments, she's gone off and gotten a heroin fix. Mainline follows mother and daughter as they make a difficult journey to a drug treatment center near the
In her previous film, Under the Skin of the City, Bani-Etemad broke the rules of Islamic filmmaking in
Just how difficult it is to tackle the issue of drugs in films is revealed by Pouran Derahkshandeh, whose film Candle in the Wind dealt with a family getting separated because of addiction, AIDS and the use of ecstasy pills. But she says depicting women drug addicts in Iranian cinema is difficult because of the restrictions Iranian cinema places on the portrayal of women in film: “It is easy to show a boy going toward drug addiction, but there is a restriction in showing a girl…we don't like to see the ugly situation women face by addiction.”
In a report in The Scotsman, a reporter, Angus McDowall visited a drug treatment center in
Despite the fact that drug use is a criminal offense punishable by lashing or even execution, drug use has soared, fueled by unemployment among the growing young population and the easy availability drugs. There are a 1.2 million drug addicts in
Milos Stehlik's commentaries are generally broadcast Fridays during the noon hour of the Worldview program on Chicago Public Radio, 91.5 FM. Views expressed are personal views of the author and not necessarily those of Facets Multimedia or Chicago Public Radio.