On its Facebook page, Cinema Rediscovered states that it ‘explores the invention, innovation and mystery of cinema.’ Exploration, innovation, mystery: words which perfectly fit director Ehsan Khoshbakht’s powerful essay film, Filmfarsi (2019).
Filmfarsi is about Filmfarsi. The term, coined by Hushang Kavusi, refers to a low-budget, B-movie (all the way to Z-movie) mockery of the national film industry. It was a type of cinema made by and for the Iranian people living in a nation with a split personality. It celebrates Persian culture, emotions on all ends of the spectrum and the popularity of music; singing and dancing about whatever, wherever.
Yet Filmfarsi is not about Filmfarsi. It is an act of remembrance, an act of education and a political lamentation of a nation that definitively banned the most important visual preservation of the culture they themselves had been living in. In fact, all films shown in Filmfarsiare restored from illegal VHS tapes owned by the director, who grew up in Iran.
The films take place between 1953 and 1979, a time capsule in between two nation-defining revolutions. It is a time that is confusing, and hard to understand above anything else. This is a feeling still felt by Iranians and foreigners alike, the film reveals.
Filmfarsi does not offer a bird’s eye view of a culture. It dives into a personal history, which the director experienced first-hand. There are always two sides to a coin and Khosbakht is not afraid to face both. He takes us with him on a journey through an industry that could be surprisingly liberating to women, though at the same time only assigned them two roles: the mother or the whore. This split personality of Iran is once again revealed in an image of a young woman wearing a mini skirt and a veil. Khosbakht shows us westerns with a local Iranian flavour, sloppy and clumsy melodramas, sets falling apart and a documentary (titled Forugh-e Javidan) commissioned by the Shah, voiced-over by none other than Orson Welles.
For Khosbakht, Filmfarsi is a martyr of Iran. Filmfarsi has died, but every screening of Filmfarsi is a much-needed epitaph that will keep its memory alive.
Written by Camilla Peeters for Cinema Rediscovered.