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BahmanG Written by BahmanG
May. 6, 2012 | 9:41 PM





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A Celebration of Iranian Film: HERE WITHOUT ME

HERE WITHOUT ME Review Behrooz Shahdaftar

Watching Glass Menagerie in Tehran

Why are we drawn to foreign films? Perhaps to entertain how our lives would be recognizably different if we belonged to another country or culture, to re-imagine our birthplace and heritage. We watch foreign films to appreciate our differences as similarities, that our common humanity can look radically different—to realize in differences the same human condition. We watch foreign films because we are curious about ourselves.

In Here Without Me, shown at this year’s UCLA Iranian Film Festival, a disaffected would-be writer is obsessed, perhaps even addicted to, the cinema. Movies offer him a means to escape his claustrophobic life, trapped by dysfunctional family (a recurrent theme in Iranian cinema) and his pointless work. With movies, he can daydream his malaise into happiness.

Here Without Me is director Bahram Tavakoli’s interpretation of Tennessee William’s Glass Menagerie in a modern Iranian context; in one scene, the writer is in a movie theatre, transfixed at the screen, watching what we realize is William’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof dubbed in Farsi. And this scene—a character in an adaptation of a Tennessee Williams’ drama watching another Williams’ drama, a commentary upon commentary—is Tavakoli’s innocently mischievous mental poking, transforming (while retaining) a classic into another social setting, the similarity as human differences.

For certainly, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is a banned film in Iran, and the scene of the young man watching this in a crowded Iranian theatre is itself a figment of his imagination, this cinephile’s fantasy of greater possibilities. The film acquires subtle subversive undertones in its Iranian retelling.

And this is similarly the case with the film’s family dynamics. The family matriarch juggling several jobs and fearing lay offs; her disabled daughter with poor marriage prospects; the son yearning to flee abroad as have other Iranians. The family life, veering between emotional anorexia and cannibalism, is a metaphor for contemporary Iranian life, shut-off from the world by international and domestic sanctions. Among the Iranian youth, learning several languages and translating, taking up photography and other artistic endeavors, has become a passion. It’s their insatiable (human) desire to connect themselves with something greater.

Iranian cinema and the international recognition and accolades it has consistently received in the past two decades is one way of asserting the universal relevance of Iranian society and culture. Here Without Me is perhaps Tavakoli’s response to political extremism everywhere, dramatizing that a story set and produced in another continent and century can elaborate on the lives of current Iranians. That he has been able to accomplish this with humor and gentle persuasion makes Here Without Me all the more remarkable.



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