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BahmanG Written by BahmanG
May. 6, 2012 | 9:59 PM

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A Celebration of Iranian Film: DEAD END

DEAD END Review by Behrooz Shahdaftar

Films often find themselves lucky to receive censorship. But Parviz Sayyad’s Dead End has been doubly unlucky. Despite winning a prestigious award at the 1976 Moscow International Film Festival, the film was censored first by the Monarchy and then later by the Islamic Republic. The lavish praise Dead End received in Pravda, the Soviet newspaper, among other places, courted the wrong kind of controversy. Censorship, rather than sustain or resuscitate the film, as censorship has done with numerous works, gave it a premature death. Despite its artistic achievement and initial acclaim, Dead End, from its inception to until now, has been previewed a mere handful of times. Indeed, the financial toll of Sayyad’s unsuccessful attempts at showing this film at U.S. film festival ended his career as a film maker. (He now makes his living as a playwright and a stage actor). For its historical as well as its artistic merit, Dead End, shown in a deteriorating copy at this year’s UCLA Iranian Film Festival, deserves our attention.

Before the Revolution, Iranian society sought to foster an Iranian universalism, exploring distinctly Iranian themes and contexts through broader (Western) artistic methods. Dead End is an example of these trends. The film, influenced by French New Wave Cinema, itself became an example of Iran’s own emerging New Wave Cinema. The Iranian New Wave film has receded as a recognizable genre; but their thematic concerns has rippled into contemporary Iranian art films which receive global awards and recognition. Its influence is obvious in the stories at this year’s UCLA Iranian Film Festival.

The story of Dead End is deceptively simple, much like Three and a Half and Mourning, two other films at this year’s film festival. The film focuses on several days in the life of a young woman, through which broader themes about Iranian social—as well as the human—condition are observed. She lives on a cul-de-sac (the literal translation of Dead End’s title in Farsi) in a working class neighborhood with her mother. And although she has completed high school, she hasn’t yet enrolled in the University. She has greater intellectual ambitions, but no outlet for them. Her room is decorated with posters of American rock stars and she secretly smokes. But her attire is sometimes Western. At other times she wears the chador, the body-length veil that some religious women wear in public. And in this way, as we come to realize, Dead End offers the theme of Iranian Universalism, of being distinctly modern and Iranian, as somehow stillborn, a dead end.

But Dead End develops this theme further. The young woman’s father is deceased and the brother does not live with them. The absence of men in her life is palpable, a source of concern for her mother. A handsome older man, the young woman notices, stands at the end of her street and gazes at her window without interruption. She assumes he is romantically interested in her, but propriety demands that she should not approach him, and not make her reciprocated affection known or obvious. Her mother suspects that there might be a man in her life, and she is supportive. But because courting rules are influx, neither thoroughly Western nor traditional, she cannot openly talk to her mother and their relationship cannot form. It too comes to a dead end. Thus, her story, the life of an obscure working class Iranian woman, both traditional and Western, serves as an allegory of contemporary political and social tensions which in three years contribute to the regime’s downfall.

Beyond its artistic achievement, watching Dead End felt like stepping into an old photo album. The street scenes of Tehran. The city’s discotheques. The people and their unpoliced clothing. All of these nuances give the film the additional drama of what the viewer knows is the impending change. For all these reasons, one hopes that Dead End receives the widespread acclaim it deserves and it will receive the widespread audience that it deserves.

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