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BahmanG Written by BahmanG
May. 6, 2012 | 9:25 PM

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A Celebration of Iranian Film: MOURNING (2011)

MOURNING (2011) Review by Behrooz Shahdaftar

A recurrent theme of recent Iranian cinema is the avoidance of linear stories in favor of the slice of life approach. Such an approach, without a natural beginning or resolution or climax, offers invaluable insights for the viewer. It allows the story to continuously rotate its narrative, protagonists, and themes from diverse perspectives—a celluloid kaleidoscope.

The Oscar-winning film, A Separation, is one example of this approach. Its use of multiple perspectives transforms the film from a telling of a simple story to a much more complicated event, and transforms the audience into the omnipresent viewer. As each character’s motives become equally compelling, the film eliminates the distinction between main and supporting characters, between plot and subplot.

Morteza Farshbaf’s Mourning develops this genre in an entirely new form. Like the best of current Iranian films, Mourning is a deceptively simple story (or non-story). Set in the lush surrounding of Northern Iran, near the Caspian Sea where Middle class Iranians vacation, a couple and their nephew are making the long (and often dangerous) drive back to Tehran, the capital. The boy’s parents had also been vacationing here, but decided to depart early—after what we come to understand is one of the couple’s constant quarrels—leaving the boy with his deaf aunt and uncle. And we also come to understand, the parents leave the boy as an orphan. The boy’s parents die in a car accident shortly after their departure.

Mourning’s opening scene contains sound, the screaming of the boy’s mother and father fighting, but no picture, only pure darkness. The following scene is a panoramic view of the Iranian countryside, vivid with color. A car is making its arduous drive down a road. But there is no sound, only subtitles. These slowly reveal to the viewer that the deaf couple are communicating, discussing what to do with the newly orphaned boy. Thus, skillfully, Farshbaf’s juxtaposing of the first two scenes creates the film primary theme. Farshbaf separates sound from words or their image, rendering speech as merely another sound. And simultaneously the film elevates noise and sound to an equal importance as speech. Indeed, simple traffic and city noise, the buzzing of a car engine, and music act as more than soundtrack. These become a dialogue onto themselves, a means of display the character’s complexity, and a means of moving the film along.

By minimizing the importance of the spoken word, Mourning heightens the viewer’s awareness to other senses, just as color, making the richness of Farshbaf’s cinematography as vital for the story as narration and speech. In turn, Mourning awakens the viewer to the rich panoply in the human understanding. We come to appreciate that words (and their meanings) cannot capture the nuisances of the human experience. Noise or sound often acts as a means as well as a barrier to communication. And that the sound of a small crying boy conveys the profound depths of grief in ways not available in speech.

First Comment:

  1. At a prior home in Texas, I was backing my car out of the gargae (gargae door was routinely left open) when I saw some movement out of the corner of my eye.  I stopped, looked up, and saw a white dove hanging from the wall.  I got out to investigate and found that it had a foot caught in the crook of a rake that was hanging on the wall.  I took the rake off its hook, tipped the end to the ground, and the bird slipped off.  It walked around without any problem but didn’t fly away (perhaps it was tired from the ordeal?).  I had to leave, and when I returned there was no sign of it.  I used to see plenty of doves and pigeons around there, and this was definitely a dove.

    Posted by Handriel on 10/28 at 03:03 AM