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Persian gulf

By PETER KEOUGH  |  November 7, 2007

All but one of the desperate victims in Unfinished Stories is a woman (a heartbroken soldier’s story is about injustice to women from a different point of view), another reminder that despite — or because of — all the patriarchal oppression of the current Iranian theocracy, its cinema remains the most dynamically feminist in the world. Indeed, there are probably more women directors in the Makhmalbaf family than in any single Hollywood studio. Mahnaz Afzali’s documentary THE RED CARD (2006-’07; November 17 at 3:15 pm) takes a brash, smoothly constructed (video of court proceedings, Iranian tabloid headlines, home videos taken by the alleged killer, no resorting to voiceover) look at a criminal case that was the Iranian version of the O.J. trial. A former soccer star’s wife is found murdered and the husband’s mistress confesses, but during the ensuing proceedings grave doubts arise. The accused, Shahla Jahed, is a three-ring circus, her modes ranging from keening grief to angry denunciation to ingratiating sweet talk with the presiding judge as she argues that her confession was coerced and that someone else was the culprit. When evidence turns up about a mystery person and a possible sexual assault, she starts to look like another female scapegoat.

A different kind of death sentence hangs over Mania Akbari in her 10 + 4 (2004; November 17 at 4:45 pm). An artist, filmmaker, and actress, Akbari put in a rigorous performance as a beleaguered wife, mother, and career woman in Abbas Kiarostami’s 10 (2000), a film that consists of 10 cinéma-vérité conversations taking place in cars. She employs a similar scheme in this sequel of sorts, the alarming difference being the intrusion of cancer into the scenario: Akbari has undergone a mastectomy, chemotherapy, and hair loss, and her illness becomes the overriding subject of the film. Powerful and brave material, perhaps, and Akbari and her interlocutors (including a vice cop on a scooter who pulls her over to ask whether she’s a man or woman) discuss the guilt and isolation brought on by her disease. But despite some striking sequences (a dialogue on an endless ski lift with another bald cancer survivor is wrenching and eerie), she lacks detachment, and the film regresses into the insularity of a video memoir.

Iranian cinema excels not only in films about women but in films about children, the fallout from years of censorship that banned most representations of adult problems and relationships. Such constraints, however, don’t account for a filmmaker’s skill in entering without sentimentality or condescension a child’s point of view. Mohammad-Ebrahim Mo’ayyeri’s DANDELIONS DANCE IN THE WIND (2007; November 24 at 2:20 pm) harks back to the days of Kiarostami’s Where Is the Friend’s House? (1987) and Panahi’s The White Balloon (1995) as it follows the days of a pre-adolescent boy in a backwater town who stands up to bullies and helps get the town’s idle textile factory running again. The apparent political subtext — the ill effects of outside Western influences like drugs, hedonism, and corporate capitalism — fades before the fluid naturalism and diurnal rhythms (though Mo’ayyeri overdoes the shots of the moon’s changing phases).

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