The New Wave in Iranian Cinema - From Past to Present
Hamshahri, (Daily Morning)
7 March 1995,
Vol. 3, No. 639, Page: 10
An Interview with Ahmad Talebinejad
Summary: Ahmad Talebinejad, a film critic and writer, has complied and written a book on cinema that tries to evaluate the history of Iranian cinema from a new point of view. The book is called "A Simple Event - A Review of the New Wave Trend in Iranian Cinema."
Q: How did the new wave come about in Iranian cinema?
A: A new trend began in the cinema since 1968. It was due to developments in the cultural arena with origins in the political, social, and cultural developments of the 1950s and 1960s.
The Iranian cinema practically entered a new stage with the making of three films: The Cow (1969 - Dariush Mehrjuyee), Qaysar (1969 - Massoud Kimyayee), and Calm in Front of Others (Naser Taqvaie). It was both serious and received approval from thinkers, specialists, and intellectuals of the society, whereas before that stage, cinema had no fruit to be approved by experts, except for a couple of failed efforts.
Those three films set off a trend distinct from FILMFARSI [a term coined for vulgar Iranian films] which contributed to the growth and dynamic character of a truly artistic and cultural cinema. We should note that FILMFARSI has not disappeared even after the revolution. It still exists and goes on living in specific forms and conditions.
Q: What were other characteristics of the New Wave in Iranian Cinema?
A: The period known as the New Wave is indeed an intellectual cultural trend in the Iranian cinema. Since 1969, nearly 200 films have been made, not all of which are necessarily valuable. The New Wave films are a handful.
Even films influenced by that trend could not be called good New Wave films. For instance, Reza Motori [Motorcyclist] is not a brilliant film on Kimyayee's record. Nor is The Baluch. But those two films were different from the FILMFARSI of that period, even though they had things in common with the New Wave. The New Wave is a trend aiming at a cultural objective. Now if it has not achieved the ultimate aim regarding film production, it has tried to depart from the swamp of FILMFARSI. That effort was properly under way and went along uninterruptedly for a while. Thus you see that from 1969, when those three films were made, until 1972-73 about 40-50 noteworthy films were made. That is not a small figure.
That effort reached a deadlock when the original aim of intellectual films was forgotten for the sake of financial issues and winning a greater audience. It was around 1977 that the Iranian viewer, who had watched relatively good Iranian and foreign films could tell the banal aspects of FILMFARSI. Previously, that comparison was only made with foreign films. But after the New Wave trend, the comparison was made between the domestic cultural-artistic films and the vulgar products. There are works among the vanguard films of that period which still have novelties as far as structure is concerned. For instance, "The Mongols" by Parviz Kimiavi, and "The Spring" by Arbi Avanessian. This is also true about films of Shahid Saless, which if you watch them even today you would see new experiences in them in regards to form and structure.
In other words, the New Wave films not only influenced the Iranian cinema, they raised the expectation of the viewer. The viewers were no longer satisfied by FILMFARSI. Even if the latter rivaled foreign films in nudeness and obscenity, the viewer preferred to watch healthy Iranian films rather than a bad and obscene copy of third and fourth grade Italian films. In those years, many obscene scenes were seen on the stage. But they could not meet the cultural demands of viewers.
I believe that at present, considering that a decade has passed since the emergence of the new Iranian cinema, there are still instances that harm the films like those previous scenes and the viewer is fed-up with them. After the revolution, action films were planned and made quite carefully, and the directors and producers thought that they would be making box office hits. But they failed. "Tavarish" by Mehdi Fakhimzadeh is an example. By contrast, a film like "Under the Olive Trees" sold about 15 million Tomans in a short while and only in two movie theatres, and that is unprecedented in our cinema.
Q: What influence did New Wave Cinema leave on critics?
A: Before the New Wave, nobody considered the director as the creator of the work. There were only two or three directors whose names denoted specific types of films. One was Samuel Khachikian, because people thought he imitated Hitchcock. The other was Siamak Yassami. Viewers considered him to be promoting the Indian film style in Iran. Another was Kooshan who was known as a producer rather than a director because he owned a studio himself.
In that period, the principal representatives of all films were the actors or the so-called stars of those films. Ordinary people did not know that the main creator was somebody else. In fact, perhaps there was no creator, and the people were correct. After the New Wave, the public found out that one person was the principal thinker of the film, and his ideas and plans are made into pictures, and he is called the director. This, of course, does not concern the intellectual and cinema community who knew well who the film creator was.
Apart from this, the New Wave caused the Iranian cinema to be viewed as a cultural category. Cinema was not viewed in that way before. No intellectual, except in the early years of the cinema, was won over to cinema. At the time, FILMFARSI had become a swear word. But after the New Wave, contemporary writers would like their works to be made into films. In the late 1970s, many writers, intellectuals, and persons who only considered literature and drama to be true arts, took a more serious approach to cinema. They wrote valuable criticisms of films in the artistic-cultural publications of the time.
Q: Isn't the origins of the New Wave outside of Iran? And was it not in fact influenced by the intellectual Italian and French films of the 1950's and 1960's?
A: The factors leading to the rise of the New Wave in Iran were, in part, due to internal conditions; that is due to intellectual or even political movements that came into existence at the time. A romantic climate was developing after the 19 August  coup in the sphere of arts. Next to it, a socially committed literature took shape in the 1950's and reached a peak in the 1960's which we may consider as the "golden era" of contemporary Iranian literature.
The importation of some other kind of foreign films, the diffusion of cinema culture and its principles as well as theoretical views on Cinema through translation of works and criticisms in magazines, and above all the starting of the Film Club by Dr. Kavoosi and his friends, on the whole, transmitted the trends of world cinema. Those clubs played an important role in the shaping growth of many directors. For instance, Kimyayee was a consistent member. Nasser Taqvaie was somehow trained there and was a disciple of Ghaffari. That is also the case with Bayzai who once won a contest there.
They are now celebrated film makers and have created a change in our cinema. Gradually, the ordinary viewers tended to watch different films through the clubs. But developments in other countries had their own characteristics. For instance, the New Wave of French cinema did have an influence in my opinion. I do not wish, of course, to look for similarities between the Iranian and French New Wave cinemas. A group of young people came around in France who argued that the cinema of their grandfathers was old and non-scientific and failed to answer the demands of the young generation. A New Wave came about which followed the cinema of Hitchcock and the American classical cinema, and dominated the French cinema.
They then made different films, such as the formalist works of Godard or the films of Truffaut. On the other hand, the Italian neo-realist films influenced Iranian cinema. Films like the Bicycle Thieves or works of Fellini and de Sica that were screened in Iran changed the people's attitudes toward society and especially toward cinema.
In the late 1970's, the neo-realist tendency weakened among directors. But after the revolution, owing to specific social conditions, neo-realism reappeared in stage, this time with a different face.
Q: Did only cinema professionals play a role in shaping the New Wave?
A: We have talked only about the first generation of those involved in the New Wave. But there is a group of dramatists whose names only have been mentioned in the book. We hope to discuss them in more detail in the second edition. The second generation is rooted indeed in theatre. Ali Hatami, Bahram Bayzai, and others were won over to cinema from other literary cultural arenas. Before the New Wave, no producer or studio manager was prepared to permit a young and proud intellectual to work and to make available his money to him. The most important influence of the New Wave people is that they made films by sacrifice and devotion and that is clearly comprehensible from their statements in the book.
Q: A review of the first three films of the New Wave, the Cow, Qaysar and Calm in front of Others would show that the directors of those films were trying to make different films in form and subject, rather than trying to offer a cinema theory like the French. How could one attribute a theory to that tendency?
A: It is best, when reviewing artistic works, to criticize each work with a view to its own particular characteristics in order to reach a general conclusion. Those three films do have affinities, but we do make distinctions among them. The film Qaysar and its director, Kimyayee, [for cinema] are like Akhavan and his poems for Iranian contemporary poetry.
One special quality of Akhavan's poems is thought that he has established a bridge between the Khorassani and Nima Schools. That is what Kimyayee has done in Qaysar; i.e., he established a connection between intellectual and popular films. Mehrjuyee in the Cow used the drama tradition somehow. In particular, he benefited from the people's interest in theatre which was at its peak during at the period. And Nasser Taqvaie borrowed from social literature. In my opinion, that variety of viewpoints distinguished those films from FILMFARSI. One important characteristic of the New Wave films was that they were not repetitions and cliches. But, it is not enough to just mention the function Qaysar performed in that period. Kimyayee, by his work, facilitated the making of films like the Spring and the Mongols. It is true that the formalist films of that period left a negative impact on the public opinion and the critics. But they left a worthy impact on the Iranian cinema culture.
Q: How could New Wave prosper in the present cinema?
A: It is best to pursue the trend of FILMFARSI after the revolution. I am going to pursue the issue in my new book called FILMFARSI. Specific formulae are identifiable in FILMFARSI a number of which are even been noticeable in the post-revolution films.
The commercial aspects, with false attractions which were sex and violence previously, have now been replaced with violence. It is noticed in an over-abundance and at a disgusting level in the present films.
Above all, is the "happy end" which producers are not prepared to let go of easily.
Unfortunately, some government policy makers are also advocates of the "happy end."
"Happy end" is not bad in itself. It is wrong to use it if preparations for it have not been made in the film. Indeed, the end to any film should be realistic and should not be imposed by force.
The present New Wave is the extension of the pre-Revolutionary New Wave in a logical manner. The special value of the New Wave cinema in Iran was its artistic tendencies. They were not copies of any other film and drew their structure from the film subject itself. They were new and unique both in subject and form. This is also true about other principal factors making up a film. For instance, camera, music, editing, acting. For example, in Sarah (by Dariush Mehrjuyee) even though the subject is a cliche drama narrating a conflict between a young husband and wife, through the script, decoupage in directing (using dissolve and color darkening and lighting), conscious refusal to use music and editing, it is given special values which even its repetitive subject fails to influence.
Q: What are your future plans?
My subsequent work is to complete and revise the second edition of the same book (A Simple Event), of course, if the publisher finances the expenses for a second edition. I shall hold a long talk with Nasser Taqvaie (under the heading "... As told by Taqvaie") concerning the New Wave in Iranian Cinema, the literary currents and the history of developments in Iranian cinema. We have talked about his contemporaries like Golestan, Al-Ahmad, Forough Farrokhzad and Sa'edi. That will appear in one volume. I have also written a 600-page book which is ready for print. In it I have discussed the various post- revolutionary cinema genres. I am also writing a book on "FILMFARSI" with the same title.