Dominic Ambrose Blogblot

of words: narrative, film and non-fiction

Santuri, Mehrjui’s Iranian film is great cinema and filmfarsi B movie at the same time

The film Santoori (the Musician) is a film noir of the “Lost Weekend” tradition, a precipitous slide into addiction and loss. This type of script has been done before in a hundred different ways, however, the settings in Santoori are unique and fascinating, enough to make the viewer forget about the clichés and allow the film to work its magic.

Ali is the musician referred to in the title, played by Bahram Radan. Ali is a musician who sings in a contemporary popular style while playing the traditional stringed instrument, the santour (there! I’ve used all three spellings of this word). It is an usual and effective combination, that, like so many elements in the film, points to a deeper significance. If you are interested in popular music but not familiar with Iranian styles, then the music is reason enough to see the film, for the small snippets of music are especially beautiful (though you’ll have to ignore the wildly melodramatic lyrics). The music is actually written and performed by the very talented pop star Mohsen Chavoshi.

Golshifteh Farahani gives a stunning performance as Hanieh, Ali’s high-spirited and unconventional wife, who goes through a great transformation of her own, trying to be a wife, and a musician (pianist) while also fulfilling her own needs. Her character does not have the room to develop fully, since the story of Ali’s addiction insists on center stage. golshiftehHanieh’s dilemma is deep and Farahani has the talent to bring it out. She deserves a film all her own.

The main focus of the film is the way that Ali uses his friends and family to feed his addiction, abuses the good faith of his wife and destroys his own career with his irresponsible behavior. Ali has a typical addict’s personality, blaming all and sundry for his problem, except his own weakness. Yes, all done before. But when he truly hits bottom, living in a Tehran park full of addicts, the hellish reality of heroin addiction in modern day Iran are portrayed on the screen in ways that most of us have never seen before.
Hopefully, it will be just as shocking to Iranians, especially those with some power to do more to cure the plague of addiction in their society. The Iranian government does have certain programs in place to fight trafficking, and to help addicts, but not enough. Many people of the conspiracy theory persuasion, believe that the existence of addiction is actually beneficial to the government, in effect neutralizing a large segment of dissident population, and for that reason, there is a certain amount of official foot dragging in addressing the problem. Hanieh does at a certain point state a commonly held opinion in Iran, that hard drugs are so attractive to people because they simply have nothing else to do in the fanatically restrictive Islamic Republic. Indeed, the very real situation depicted in the film, in that Ali has been banned from playing public performances and thus must play at weddings and private gigs where the musicians are paid in drugs and alcohol, is aptly symbolic of the larger situation.

The film’s detractors say that the social problems are depicted in banal and superficial ways, and that the characters are too self-indulgent to be relevant. It has even drawn the unflattering epithet of “filmfarsi” which refers to the kitschiest Persian films, which use cheesy relationships and pop iconography to draw crowds. They have a point. The script has a low-budget reliance on voiceover narration to present a formula tearjerker that seems to prefer shock value to depth. However, there is method to this madness. The director, Dariush Mehrjui, has had a long and courageous career in Iranian film, and obviously he believes that he is accomplishing something with his pop references and his sometimes cloying characterizations. Perhaps he does indeed want to attract the largest audience possible, and then confront them with the ugly truth. Not surprisingly, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance has banned the film, which in Iran, means that the trade in pirated copies goes into high gear and the director loses his rightful earnings from non-existent box office receipts. Thus, at 70 years of age, Mehrjui has the bitter honor of having been banned by both the Shah and the Islamic Republic. Golshifteh Farahani has also been banned from international travel, after she took on a leading role in Ridley Scott’s Hollywood production, Body of Lies. We can only join all rational thinking Iranians is looking forward to the day that the government in Tehran stops harassing its best artists and bestows on them the official recognition that they deserve in the service of their country and its culture.

Some more from Mohsen Chavoshi. Click on the photo for another of his disturbingly dark songs:



September 13, 2009 Posted by | cinema, music | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Eurovision 2007!

Eurovision 2007: Power to the Party Crashers!

May, 2007

(Images here are from Eurovision 2006 in Athens)

It’s a truly upsetting scene at European TV these days: for years the tired crowd of pretentious partygoers have done little more than preen before the mirror at the annual party, having long ago lost interest in listening to each other, since they’ve heard it all a hundred times before. Now suddenly, they find their party has been crashed by the boorish newcomers to the neighborhood, who failed to understand that their invitation was only half heartedly extended. There they are, camped out on the most comfortable seats, drinking cheap beer and laughing at jokes in some incomprehensible foreign language. That’s the Eurovision song contest lately, as the Western European founders and financial benefactors of the contest fade ever more ignominiously into the background, finding themselves transformed from hosts to cater-waiters at their own party, serving votes to the rising stars of Eastern Europe.

The Greek production number, Eurovision style. 2006

The Greek production number, Eurovision style. 2006

The easterners arrived in the 1990s, and felt immediately at home in the atmosphere of tackiness and terminally white musical taste that has always been the hallmark of this contest. They have joined in the formulas with great enthusiasm, finding that it dovetailed comfortably with their own taste for headbanger rock and slut-disco (a mix of miniskirts up to here and oom-pa-pa drum machines), and they don’t fail to send loss-leaders in all formula categories: the lousy entries from Belarus and Poland attesting to this. However, one on one, the easterners generally do formula better than the westerners: the tired queen from Denmark was no match for Ukraine’s pro Verka Serduchka and somehow hard rock sounds more genuine and soulful from Croatia and Moldova. Even newcomer Georgia did dance beat better than the disco Dutch. But even more importantly, the Easterners do something that no westerners have thought of in years: they occasionally send their best quality pop singers with complex songs that mix folk traditions, popular tastes and schmaltzy singable lyrics for the home crowd. The Albania, Bosnia and Macedonia entries were well wrought. Bulgaria and Slovenia were innovative and entertaining. And Serbia was the winner, fair and square.

Continue reading

May 4, 2009 Posted by | music, performances | , , , | Leave a comment