Its 40th edition was celebrated at 40 locations throughout the city – too much to cover really. A brief four-day visit results in seeing a wide array of films in the festival’s Spectrum section, which focuses on more well known and recurring directors as well as taking the pulse of world cinema. As it happens, one is taken from Lebanon to Western views on Iran, to Iran itself and around the globe. We selected five films for comment.
In Grandma, A Thousand Times Lebanonborn Mahmoud Kaabour portraits his paternal grandmother and through her rediscovers his grandfather, a Lebanese musician. It’s a remarkably fresh film that challenges clichés about documentary filmmaking in a creative and humorous way. Grandma reminisces about the past, when her house was still filled with life, music and love, and ponders her present life, which mainly consists of smoking the arguileh. Kaabour present a warm and loving portrait of this woman.

Through their interaction, their small talk, and with the help of photos, Kaabour’s grandfather comes to life. Kaabour continuously reflects on the process of filmmaking. The film begins with a ‘summary’, which consists of drawings representing various shots of grandma in the film. Kaabour includes directing cues; there are reverse shots in a dialogue with a neighbour, complaints about the microphone, and questions about the quality of Grandma’s performance. He shows how she peels an orange against backgrounds, the camera ‘dances’ over pictures, and he ‘projects’ images on the wall behind the couch he and his grandma are sitting and reminiscing on.
Kaabour uses parallel montage to combine the courtesies when welcoming Kaabour’s partner Eva into the house with behind-the-scenes face shots of her, and to combine Grandma’s phone call to the butcher’s and the preparation of the order (with some comments on Grandma). Kaabour himself plays his deceased uncle, also a musician. And at the end, Grandma pre-enacts her death. Scenes he apparently shot for the film are also used in a performance in which he shares his thoughts with an audience, while the images are projected on the wall. Maybe he managed to express himself so well on that occasion that he did not want to ‘repeat’ it for the film. How is that for ‘realism’? Using all these different ingredients could result in a fragmented film that goes all over the place. But most of it is filmed in and around Grandma and her house, and the unity of place helps to keep the film coherent. Other than that it is the deeply humane nature of the film that surfaces as well as the central character of Grandma herself.

Grandma, a Thousand Times

Where Grandma centres on one location, 1001 Irans does the opposite. In this film, we hear the vox popoli, the voice of the people (Western people that is) filmed in cities like Paris, Madrid, Chicago, San Diego, and Rome. Short statements illustrate what they know about Iran, the birthplace of filmmaker, Firouzeh Khosrovani, who now lives in Italy. The people talk about an array of subjects, including Iran’s people, government, religion, history, and culture. Khosrovani presents a wide array of knowledge and opinions. Of course, what people say, says as much about them as it does about Iran, and probably more. It will not be surprising that many opinions are based on traditional media such as TV, radio and magazine and thus they are far from complete or realistic – something some are ready to admit. The many statements are edited along a line going smoothly from one theme to the next, stressing the still dominant information medium TV. Archive and local images are interspersed and not only illustrate what people are talking about but also provide some (historical) insight. The montage of feature film fragments during the ‘discussion’ on culture feels like a little ode to Iranian cinema. All in all, 1001 Irans is pleasant enough to watch for 42 minutes, but it does not give us much to contemplate on. I think we are beyond surprise that a ‘simple fisherman’ can actually make a very intelligent remark while politicians are stuck in rhetoric. The film also feeds on clichés about Americans, too ignorant to know that what was once called Persia is now Iran and not interested in travelling abroad.

Michael Pilz treats us to a completely different story about Iran, one that is contra the generalities that make up 1001 Irans. His film, Rose and Jasmine, is based on his trips to Iran in May 2006 and October 2007. He takes us along on his trip and shows us his filmed photo album.

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