Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Iranian and Egyptian Movies

I just posted the last of a new group of about 80 Iranian posters. That was a change of pace for me because most of my posts have been about Egyptian posters. The Iranians and the Egyptians tend not to be interested in each other at any level, but they are both interesting to me. In a Skype conversation a few days ago I offered to show some Iranian posters to an Egyptian poster collecting friend, and he flatly refused to look at any of them. He likes American, Italian and Egyptian posters, but forget those Iranian ones! He doesn't know any Persian, so in a way I can see why. Here are a few thoughts I've had recently going back and forth between Egyptian and Iranian films:

Iranians don't have real glamor queens like Egypt's Hind Rostom or Samia Gamal, even though they have a lot of very beautiful women in their films. There is also less religion in Iranian films generally, despite efforts by the current Iranian government to change that.

Egypt has a much larger film industry, also older and far more diverse. Egyptian films are usually bigger productions with larger budgets, casts and crews. Egyptian films are seen by much larger audiences because they are distributed throughout the Arab world. If someone wants to study one of the Arabic dialects for use in day-to-day conversation, the Egyptian dialect would be the first choice since every Arab has grown up with Egyptian movies and is very familiar with Egyptian idioms. There are a lot more Egyptian remakes of foreign films such as An Affair to Remember and Irma La Douce. The Egyptian filmmaker has always had his eye on the rest of the world's film community, and he plays to it. The Iranians have done less of this, although that is changing.

Iranian films seem to be more introspective, exploring indigenous ideas and domestic ethnicity. The Iranians haven't had successful political filmmakers like Egypt's late socialist director Salah Abouseif who spent his entire career using Egyptian film as a vehicle for exploring international ideological themes. The Iranians also lack multicultural internationlists like Egypt's late Youssef Chahine, who was constantly contrasting Egypt's ethnic character and history with competing and usually invasive foreign values. Because of his high international stature, Chahine's films sometimes had a distracting self-conscious, bombastic quality that one rarely sees in the films of the great Iranian directors. To me the Iranian film industry is much more genuine overall, probably because it is not as heavily industrialized.

Egypt's most brilliant and original director for my taste is Mohamed Khan, who is of Pakistani extraction even though he's lived in Egypt all his life. His Iranian counterpart is the late Abbas Kiarostami [1940-2016]. Both directors have made insightful minimalist films with improvised stories told on real-life sets, often with characters played by people who were not professional actors. Their movies sometimes look like documentary fiction and they've mostly been low-budget.

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