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Bahman Ghobadi and Abbas Kiarostami, Events, Issues, DVDs

The Auteurs Daily

No One Knows About the Persian Cats

Conan O'Brien's rousing open letter to the "People of Earth" is all the rage over the wires and in the ether at the moment, but there's another open letter out there that makes for a far more disturbing read. A little over a week ago now, Michael Slackman told the back story in the New York Times: "Abbas Kiarostami, whose own poetic examinations of Iranian life have established him as the elder statesman of Iranian cinema, criticized [Bahman] Ghobadi's decision to make No One Knows About Persian Cats without government permission, and then deciding to leave the country. That set off an unusual public debate over the role of art in Iran, and whether it should have a social-political component. Mr Kiarostami, whose Taste of Cherry won the Palme d'Or at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival, mentored Mr Ghobadi, so the critique was particularly stinging, prompting Mr Ghobadi to respond with an emotional public letter to his former teacher."

Rasmus Christian Elling translates much Ghobadi's letter for us, and indeed, "emotional" is the word. Kiarostami had evidently seen Persian Cats in Ghobadi's home and expressed his approval. Clearly, he changed his mind - and went public with his criticisms. Ghobadi answers each one: "I have never left the country by my own will and wish. They threw me out of my country." What's more, Kiarostami's own next feature, Certified Copy, was shot in Italy. "In all these years, you have created films without the slightest influence from politics and society, which of course, is your right and your choice. Silence is also your right, even though if you were to open your mouth and criticize the rulers' oppression and the chaotic conditions in society, you would still enjoy much more safety than the rest of us."

There's more. Ghobadi goes over the top here and there, but Elling's translation and commentary definitely warrant reading and consideration. Artists and public figures who find or place themselves in opposition to a regime that's cracked down so harshly and for so many months now will each likely respond in different and at times separate ways. Hopefully, this is the sort of spat that eventually evolves into mutual respect for each other's individual decisions. But that sort's rare, of course.

The news from neighboring Iraq is more encouraging. For CNN, James Montague reports that "a crop of Iraqi films showing at film festivals around the world this year indicate a resurgence for the country's beleaguered filmmakers." Mohamed Al-Daradji's Son of Babylon "had its world premiere at the Middle East International Film Festival in Abu Dhabi late last year, and is slated to show later this month at Robert Redford's Sundance Film Festival - the first Iraqi film ever in the prestigious indie film festival's history. Son of Babylon is not the only Iraqi-made film to find success recently. Shawkat Amin Korki's Iraqi-Kurdistan drama about a multi-ethnic football match in contemporary Iraq, Kick Off, was among films awarded the illustrious international film critics' (FIPRESCI) award in 2009. Meanwhile, Oday Rasheed's second film Qarantina has been selected to show at Rotterdam International Film Festival later this month, and Hiner Saleem's Apres La Chute showed at the Dubai International Film Festival in December last year."



Speaking of Rotterdam, the closing film will be Ineke Smits's The Aviatrix of Kazbek, reports Peter Knegt for indieWIRE. Written by Dutch novelist Arthur Japin, it stars Madelief Blanken, Zurab Jgenti, Peter Lohmeyer and Anamaria Marinca.

"Best known for his collages and his box constructions, Joseph Cornell also made gorgeous, magical films that introduced the collage style of his visual art to the cinematic vocabulary, prefiguring the found footage methods of later generations." Doc Films screens a selection tonight in Chicago.

"As the only child of a legendarily decadent union - the great French desiccated dandy/songwriter Serge Gainsbourg and British actress/singer Jane Birkin - Charlotte [Gainsbourg] was born with scandal imprinted on her DNA," writes Melissa Anderson for Artforum. "But as the nine films in the French Institute Alliance Française's tribute to the gifted actress make clear, Gainsbourg is more than a provocatrice; her Modigliani face and frame show the subtlest shifts of pain and pleasure, grief and joy." Tonight through through February 23.

In the L Magazine, Miriam Bale reminds us that Shadows of Russia co-programmers Farran Smith Nehme and Lou Lumenick as well as Glenn Kenny will be on hand tonight when BAM screens Mission to Moscow. See Thursday's entry for more.

My Neighbor My Killer

"Almost 10 years in the making, My Neighbor My Killer examines the emotional and judicial convulsions of post-genocide Rwanda through the oral testimonies of a handful of traumatized survivors," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times. Opens today at the Maysles Cinema in NYC. Earlier: Reviews from Cannes.

"In the years since Re-animator's release Stuart Gordon has indeed made his mark as a film director adept at adapting Lovecraft (1986's From Beyond), Poe (The Black Cat, The Pit and the Pendulum), Mamet (Edmond) and mounting original productions like the splendidly creepy Dolls (1987) and 2007's Stuck... And now Gordon brings his enthusiasm for film back to the New Beverly [in Los Angeles] beginning this Friday, January 15, with a short series of favorite titles which he chose personally for the occasion." Dennis Cozzalio asks him about his selections.



"Scope is ten years old," announce Mark Gallagher and Julian Stringer. "We are pleased to mark our tenth anniversary of continuous publication with our first e-book, Iain Robert Smith's edited volume Cultural Borrowings: Appropriation, Reworking, Transformation. We hope our readers will enjoy this free-to-all collection of original scholarship on processes of adaptation in film, television and new media."

Also via Catherine Grant, a new issue of INCITE! Journal of Experimental Media & Radical Aesthetics.



"Shot in wide angle from a personal-space-respecting distance in a fluorescent-lit world of moldy green pastels and ashen-faced zombie-humans acting out the absurd machinations of modern life, [Roy] Andersson's mature films make his dyspeptic Scando-brother Aki Kaurismäki look like Baz Luhrmann by comparison," writes Michael Atkinson for IFC. "Yet they're funny and ecstatic, a parade of little Cornell boxes of life, coincidence, bad fortune and hope. You, the Living, his latest, is almost the shadow side of the [Songs from the Second Floor's] apocalypse-on-the-march tableaux; the world is the same, but instead of absurd dread, there's a hesitant sense of jubilation and forgiveness." Also: "Quite the little indie-dependie sensation when it leapt into the limelight this past June, Duncan Jones's Moon may or may not have gained news traction from Jones having been born two years after his father recorded 'Space Oddity,' but it's otherwise a smart and cynical low-budge mashup of 2001, Silent Running, Solaris, Seconds, several Star Trek episodes, and even Bertolucci's Partner."

David and Nathan Zellner's Goliath saw its world premiere at Sundance in 2008; a few months later, Aaron Hillis spoke with the brothers for a GreenCine Daily podcast when their film was screened at SXSW. And now, good news: It's out on DVD.

More on this week's DVDs: Sean Axmaker and Noel Murray (Los Angeles Times).

Images: No One Knows About the Persian Cats and My Neighbor My Killer.

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