Next week London will host its third Iranian Film Festival — a cinematic culture that’s experienced something of a boom recently. The extraordinary A Separation (which last year’s festival awarded Best Film) was hailed by many as one of the year’s best features before going onto win an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. An adaptation of graphic novel classic Persepolis and increased interest in the work of Abbas Kiarostami (Certified Copy) have similarly peaked interest in Iranian film.
Whilst this year’s festival is unlikely to have such a monster-sized hit as A Separation, it’s fair to say that Iranian cinema has received renewed interest in recent years. The festival opens with Bahram Tavakoli’s adaptation of The Glass Menagerie, Here Without Me, which has already won Best Actress at the Montreal Film Festival for Fatemeh Motamed-Aria’s portrayal of a mother supporting her disabled daughter, who is too ashamed to leave the house. The closing film is Ali Mostafa’s (City of Life) The Last Step, starring A Separation’s superb Leila Hatami as a film star whose husband returns from the dead to give her observations on their marriage.
Adding further worth to the feature-length films on offer are the array of documentaries and shorts that precede the majority of screenings. Women’s place in modern Iran takes a centre seat in both Iran Unveiled and Veiled Again, a documentary about the mandatory reinstitution of the veil in 1979, and Hiding In The Open, a Tehran-set short about a young female photographer struggling to find her own identity. Running for only a week, the Iranian Film Festival nevertheless represents a diverse selection of talent from one of the Middle East’s most interesting emergent cinemas.