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War Cinema and Two New Iranian Films
By Mohammadreza Fakhrabadi
March 2005
به فارسی بخوانيم
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WAR has always been a fascinating subject for filmmakers, possibly because the line of good and bad in war films are clearly discernible. If in other genres screenwriters have to prepare the ground for a protagonist and antagonist to come out of the woodwork, war offers rich complexities for the writer to readily delve into and elaborate on.

In the past two decades, the Iranian film industry has produced many war films but it has seldom been successful in exploring new horizons. Ashk-e Sarma (Tears of Cold) and Duel are two films that have gone beyond the traditional view of war. These are both films screened in the past year and because of their different approach to war, they deserve closer scrutiny.

In the Iranian war film genre, war has always been portrayed as glorious and "holy," bringing out the good in the protagonist and pandering to nationalist sentiments. {Ahmadreza Darvish} and {Azizollah Hamidnezhad} have been schooled in this tradition. However, in their recent productions, these filmmakers have taken a different turn by looking at wants and desires of soldiers and their everyday life. In Darvish's film, Duel, this peculiarity comes through from the very beginning and continues with themes such as "greed," "deceit," and "revenge" (specially in the final scene, which reminds us of {John Huston}'s The Treasure of Sierra Madre or {Sam Raimi}'s brilliant A Simple Plan).

Tears of Cold is set in Kurdistan at the height of the Iran-Iraq war and tells the story of a forbidden love between a young soldier and a Kurdish female fighter, a love affair that starts with blood and explosion and ends with blood and carnage. Although these two movies share an unconventional view of war, they differ in other ways. Tears of Cold is much less elaborate in terms of special effect, whether because of its limited casting or budget.

Duel, of course, has been tagged the most expensive film in the history of Iranian cinema. The presence of highly regarded professionals among the cast and crew, the elaborate pre- and post-production are some of the reasons for the production cost. But for the viewer, the finished product fails to go beyond an audio-visual experience. Darvish has been successful in expanding the hardware capacity of Iranian cinema. He has also experimented with new promotional methods (numerous teasers and simultaneous screening in the UAE, Afghanistan, Central Asia, England, and even the US).

The point here, however, is that the software evolution of Iranian films needs to be in step with its hardware development. Producers of expensive films must feel justified in taking future risks and filmmakers need to keep that in mind. We have many examples of films (like The Flower Girl and The Lizzard) that have done well at the box office. But these films are not good yardsticks to determine the success of a movie that dares to be different. Darvish is no {James Cameron} and we shouldn't expect Duel to achieve what Titanic did. Nonetheless, it is enough to compare the battle scenes of Saving Private Ryan with Duel and the point about the software-hardware compatibility becomes clear. It will do us no good to simply dismiss or eulogize Hollywood – we can learn plenty from it.

The unfortunate thing is that neither Tears of Cold, with its delightful simplicity and accessibility, nor Duel, with all its ostentatious special effects, are successful with Iranian cinema-goers. Tears of Cold is the better of the two. Hamidnezhad's love story is worth seeing at least once. But it didn't draw a wide audience, perhaps because of weaknesses in advertisement, promotion, or special effect.  On the other hand, Duel suffers from screenplay and directing. Its is bound by software limitations of filmmaking and its producers may not come out satisfied with the revenues at the box office.