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BahmanG Written by BahmanG
May. 6, 2012 | 9:35 PM

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A Celebration of Iranian Film: THE MISSION (1983)

THE MISSION Review by Behrooz Shahdaftar

Observers of present-day Iran remark that Iran will become the most secular country in the Mid East because it has experimented most intimately with the mixing of religion and politics, and has found the outcome less than favorable.

The acclaimed film, A Separation (2011), explored the theme of religion and society, hinting that neither the secular, nor the religious, have a hold on morality or integrity. Similarly, Parviz Sayyad’s The Mission, a film made in 1983 (perhaps one of the first Iranian films made in the Diaspora), shown at this year’s Iranian Film Festival, after these thirty years maintains a surprisingly current perspective on these same concerns.

In The Mission, an Islamic revolutionary, working for the Islamic Republic’s secret police, arrives in New York City to murder another Iranian, a former member of the deposed Shah’s secret police. Accordingly, The Mission prompts one to ponder how morality and authority are interdependent, and how are they in conflict.

With touching subtlety, The Mission offers insights into the lives of exiles in the first years after the Iranian Revolution. The thick accents. The erratically furnished homes. The obsession and longing with Iran. The thinning family ties, with the different members in Iran and elsewhere. But as homesickness invigorates their emotional ties to Iran, the two men, the hunter and the hunted, come to understand each other as Iranians, rather than enemies, and appreciate that personal sentiment can behold a morality far superior to religious or political ones.

And indeed The Mission illuminates the contrast between political and personal corruption in poignant ways. In a scene, more than halfway through the film, the would-be assassin, waiting for further orders, peeks out from the window of his hideout. A blue neon sign, a symbol of social pollution and personal corruption, everything he associates with the decadent West and the Shah’s regime, flashes on and off on his face. Is corruption, then, The Mission prods the audience to ponder, inside us or on the outside? For if the agent and the exile were both merely following government orders, then how do we distinguish the morality of one over the other?

Despite its relevance and prescience, The Mission reveals the time period of its making, when the only response to Khominie was either collective despair or daydream. Near the end, the film becomes close to agitprop, no doubt reflecting the intense sentiments of the regime’s opponents, within and outside Iran. That despite its fury, Sayyad was able to prevent this film on morality from turning into a cartoon-caricature of one displays resilient restraint—itself a monument of the moral patience and nuisance that the film advocates.

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