The Role of Women in the Iranian War Movies

Film International, (Quarterly)
Autumn 1994, Vol. 2, No. 4
Word Count: 2046

Text:It seems that the manly feature and meaning of the war cinema bounds the borders to any feminine aspect. The Term "war" always connotes anxiety and action scenes, through which some plucky armed men defeat their cowardly enemy. Now the concept of war in our mind is the image of a lot of war movies we have seen before, isn't it?

One of the manifest functions of art is to analyze and interpret the events of the time. To remember the fact, if we consider cinema as the art of the twentieth century and, including two world wars and many other regional ones, call it the century of war', then it won't be so strange if we trace the track of war in cinema. But war joins politics and political cinema flows the war. Accordingly, except for a few, cinema analyzes and interprets this destructive phenomenon mainly with enthusiasm.

We can classify war movies into tow groups: those works which only depict a war episode featuring some operations, and the works dealing with affairs far from the war front. The first group almost always use special effects. To bring the camera to a crude world seemingly means to skip the colorful sentiments, but this lack is atoned through setting forth the family in the work. The faithful and kind women as dutiful wives along with their lovely angelic kids join the rough scenes of war, and the invisible cords used for these romantic patches are always the same: when the rhythm of the actions slows down and the spectator takes an opportunity to comfort, the protagonist, the fearless hero who ventures enterprises, lets in a hearty family through passing peaceful moments. In such movies women are just pretexts to show affection and amiability. They are hardly characterized, have no conflict with their spouses and wish them to be back victoriously. This picture of family in war movies boosts the spectator's consubstantial feelings, we never see the opponent family, and the box office as well. Even in notable films of the first group which exhibit a more realistic picture of war miseries the role of family is salient, thought dreamy image of a peaceful home changes for bereaved women and orphans and watching mothers. In his Battleship Potemkin, Eisenstein distinguished a mother and her child in the buggy through the scene of Odessa steps. The mother is shot and the buggy tumbles down and we take our notice wholly from the crowd to the mother and the child. In other scene, a distracted mother takes her child on the hands and goes towards the soldiers. These specimens attest that the family demeanour in harsh scenes, by the way, provokes the spectators' affections.

Some of the war cinema productions which forbear to focus on just a series of bravery operations have more possibilities to interpret the warfare. Now the film goes beyond the borderlines of anxiety shows to family. This brand of films sometimes are received warmly by people. One of the most noteworthy ones is Victor Fleming's Gone With which is loved by all and it is not because of mere historical information the film provides about the American Civil War. Margaret Mitchell at first on a less colorful background of war withheld to describe even a single scene of fight and created a more appealing introspection, instead, rich nobility and culture of Southerners v. the rush of Yankees, and when it came the turn of nobility and culture. she specified the household as the smallest unit caring for the values and axioms. This trait finds its way directly to the movie too and the woman in the film is possessed by the spirit of the heroine of the book, and she possesses romantic sentiments, picturesque attraction and the roughness a war movie requires.

In another movie, The Sound Of Music (Robert Wise) again warfare is a reason to picture an Austrian family during the formation of Nazism and the inception of the Second World War. To decelerate anti-Nazi dictum of his film, Wise resorts to a musical melodrama through which a household is formed. The film runs forward till a mother is going to join them , but at the moment the director exhibits the rush of the army in order to drive them to leave their peaceful palace-like home to the mountains. The family happiness in these films and a lot of others like them is ruined by calamitous war.

Besides the movies we mentioned, there are other features which picture war in a different way. Take lvan's Childhood (Andrei Tarkovsky) for instance. Although in Tarkovsky's the theme "war" is not bound to lvan's Childhood (Andrei Tarkovsky) for instance. Although in Tarkovsky's the theme "war" is not bound to lvan's Childhood, but it is only in this film that Tarkovsky, away from his poetic and abstract view , as in The Sacrifice, has pictured a distinguished war. The main character in lvan's Childhood is a 12-year old boy whose parents have been killed by German occupiers and he has to forget about his childhood and as a soldier bear the manly rough world. And the title becomes an irony, for the child lvan takes no time to be a child at all. The dim attachment of the title to the theme is transformed directly to the celluloid. Since Tarkovsky doesn't think to absorb more spectators, he charges the black and white pictures to exhibit the brutal savagery of the warfare. Reviewing Tarkovsky's recent films we can follow his interest in household. Family for him is the same promised paradise now transfigured as mother. This paradise is ruined is ruined by war. To not admire heroism and not project the fighters in abstraction, Tarkovsky doesn't picture any enemy in war scenes. In his Le Silence de la Mar, Jean-Pierre Melville exhibits a french family (uncle and his niece) during the occupation of France by Nazis who are imposed to live with an enemy officer. The new stranger behaves right opposite to cliches. Soon we are informed of the officer's affections and know that the antagonist must be someone or something beyond a race or nation. His love towards the niece is not expressed openly, though doing so could fashion a commercial film. But Melville rejects to move any sensation and instead, links the burden of marriage (the French girl with the enemy officer) to the union of European countries symbolically. Household is a small model for the idea of "Internationalism" and Melville takes the opportunity to put a big question mark in front of "Nationalism".

Reviewing Iranian war cinema, as a newborn genre which came to exist after the Revolution, we will find that the same world classification and standards are applicable to it as well. Moreover, like western models there have been some notable ones, and not necessarily box office, that filmed war side issues. The number of Iranian features which restrict their shows only to battlefields is great. Most of them (in spite of their director's faithfulness) have nothing new to say or no distinguished techniques to put forward. Except for a few, they merely emphasize thrilling moments and their model of household is the same as western stereotypes. Yet the peculiarity of our war gives way to create such heroes whom by themselves are appealing to the spectators. Hatami-Kia's Reconnaissance Flight is a good example. In many others. household is a redundant element which can be easily overlooked. Mohsen Mohseni-Nasab's Rain Again (1992) and Ali Shah-hatami's Iron Bird (1991), through a more or less common plot, go the same way.

A brief review of those works leads us to consider some notable movies dealing with women and family. These movies, despite their different looks at warfare, are formed against the same background: household.

In Bashu the Little Stranger, Bayzai tries to mix the daily affairs with his own interests. His writings and movies prove that he is much concerned with women's characteristics; either the mythical woman as in The Saga of Tara and The Stranger and The Fog or the modern one in Maybe Some other Time. And Bashu, the Little Stranger goes between. The cloak of war distinguishes the setting of this film. On the other hand, mythological concerns focused on Naei, the woman character of the film, blocks the way to abstract realism. The opening scene, depicting uninterrupted bombardment of the houses, emphasizes the homelessness, and Bashu is one amongst those homeless people. So Bayzai considers war as a factor which functions only to ruin the basis of family. This film avoids any vicious character. The need for love and kindness can do much stronger than even war, and so humanitarian Bayzai sets his poetical movie up.

If Bayzai pictures his own interests under the pretext of war, Makhmalbaf also interferes war with his plots in order to criticize the society more bitterly. Through a scene in his Marriage of the Blessed, Makhmalbaf pictures Hajji, who has been affected by repercussion of an explosion, and his fiancee Mehri in a park having a conversation. Mehri asks him to marry her sooner. " I'm afraid to get married and to be engaged with daily affairs", says Hajji in response. In the background of this scene we see a couple holding their child to bosom. This key scene, which is a sample of family leads us to grasp the director's view of household: it is the introductory form of being involved in a society that its contradictions and coarsenesses drive Hajji mad. When their (Hajji and Mehri) relation lacks any affection, Makhmalbaf breaks with traditions. Family, from his point of view, is not valued so that war ruins it. The ldeal world for Hajji is war and front, and not household. None of the far from the front muddles Hajji confronts link to war; as if there is a thick wall between the front and the town, where except for a number of war invalids nothing could get through. Again war is an excuse to make Hajji's extraordinary behaviour meaningful.

Amongst notable war movies focused on family relations is Hatami-Kia's From Karkheh to Rhein. A brief review of his films reveals how interested he is in war motives. War (as in Marriage of the Blessed) once more links to family via the ailment of young Saeed. His illness threatens his family rather than the others. The melodramatic characters are completely distinguishable: Saeed's wife, and Leila his sister. Fatemeh (his wife) takes the opportunity to appear now and again as a patient and kind spouse. Hatami-Kia pictures this character to emphasize the melodramatic aspect of this film. She reaches Germany when Saeed is in the agony of death and holding her baby to bosom, meets him behind the glass panes. But the relations between Saeed and Leila is basically an occasion in Iranian cinema. In Iranian films all the women are generally either passive characters who are not exhibited properly, or curious creatures who are responsible only to cut the Gordian knot, a formula which is not applicable to relations between two brothers. Hatami-Kia in his From Karkheh to Rhein ventures to establish a new kind of relationship between a brother and his sister. Saeed represents all the interests that Leila had left them before. These two characters, moving together, understand each other. Although the newcomer doesn't threaten Leila's family, the ending sequence and the picture of Jonas holding Saeed's plate connotes the effect of war on them. Hatami-Kia tries to amend the character of Leila and pictures her as a self-reliant woman who is a main personality. Yet when they (she and Saeed) meet in hospital, their reactions emphasize again the melodramatic theme of the movie.

And the fact that the number of noteworthy war movies in Iranian cinema is disappointing. We are not worried about ourselves (for we have been in touch with war) but about those born later. Their concepts and imaginations of war is bound only to those movies. They don't know of war and a rocket has not attacked the house only two streets away.

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