Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The colours of cinema


A gabbeh is a Persian carpet woven in exquisite colours and designs that tell a story. In the film of the same name by Iran’s premiere auteur Mohsen Makhmalbaf, the carpet becomes a central metaphor not only for depicting the harsh but picturesque life lead by hardy Iranian nomads but, indeed, cinema itself. As wisps of their lives are etched lovingly onto the gabbeh, so unfolds a lyrical saga of extraordinary beauty and depth.

A young woman, also called Gabbeh, longs to unite with a mysterious horseman, a stranger who follows her clan in the distance and howls in the full moon. But Gabbeh’s authoritarian father tells her that she cannot marry until her ageing uncle, a teacher and a poet, ties the knot first. This is not a condition to be taken lightly, since he has a very specific mate in mind: one who can sing like a canary. In the event, the lovable bachelor does find an exact match, but daily strife continues to delay Gabbeh’s own marriage. Her mother gives birth, her sister dies, and a baby goat is born to their livestock. In the end, the young woman and her horseman can’t wait any longer; they elope, with Gabbeh’s father following the rebellious couple with a gun.

This tale of forbidden love takes shape through a series of unforgettable images. Against the backdrop of stark landscapes, women and children go about their daily lives in intricately embroidered costumes, as they dye the wool for their carpets from the rich hues of wild exotic flowers and tall grasses. The long focus cinematography captures every detail as these nomads camp out in lush valleys, cross muddy, overflowing rivers, and trek through the barren snowfields of southeastern Iran.

As with other notable Iranian films of the 1990s, especially the works of Abbas Kiorastami, Gabbeh plays with the categories of documentary and fiction. While the elaborate composition of Makhmalbaf’s cinematography evokes painterly traditions, the use of mainly non-actors in the film recalls Italian neo-realism. In fact the director began Gabbeh as a documentary on carpet makers but, along the way, apparently changed his mind. What we are left with is a rich tapestry of realism, fiction and fantasy, and what are surely some of the most endearing images in the history of cinema since the invention of colour filmstock.

Iranian cinema has captured the hearts of film theorists and art film festivals throughout the world. One of the reasons for this might be the rejection by Iranian filmmakers of the Bollywood model to develop, instead, a unique cultural aesthetic, something directors in South Asia, including the Maldives, seem unwilling to try. Indeed, I’ve heard an influential film “expert” in this country openly declaring Iranian cinema as “meaningless”. I also understand another film “consultant” rubbished Iranian films in front of a group of young Maldivian film novices. Prevailing film sensibilities in this country, then, seem to discourage people from enjoying alternative cinemas developed by artists of exceptional vision.

I first saw Gabbeh in a cold, grubby film theatre in 1996. It was the second Iranian film I had seen and I came out of the building, with a small group of film-lovers, in a state of exhilaration. Gabbeh was proof that art cinema was very much alive, and that films could touch us at an aethetic, intellectual and human level.

In one of the scenes from the film, a characters shouts: “Life is colour!” With a seemingly simple but deft stroke of artistic genius, Makhmalbaf appears to have captured that colour in Gabbeh, which to me is the equivalent of a live painting, a passionate love song to cinema itself.
Note: More on the works of Makhmalbaf and his family of filmmakers on: http://www.makhmalbaf.com
By Al

7 comments:

subcorpus said...

so do we go about getting this movie ...?
downloadable ??

Al said...

our official downloader shaari may know more about that..

shaari said...

do we expect all film lovers to value iranian cinema? no, but it's just sad when one with loads of experience in the film industry and filmmaking, finds no meaning in a film like Gabbeh. Gabbeh is visual poetry in its finest sense. Makhmalbaf weaves together beauty of nature i.e. desert landscapes & wild flowers, and colours of the rugs to bring out a vivid experience unlike any other. i really hope more and more people watch it and appreciate the simple, eloquent alternatives cinema offers to big budgets, big names & big events.

and al, i'm the official downloader? really? yasir would lay claim to that too. anywayz i checked out torrentspy for Gabbeh and 1 file is available with no seeders & just 3 downloaders! i seriously doubt if it'll ever be downloaded. Just reflects how underappreciated these films are!

so al, it's all down to your tape. or is it a DVD?

niran said...

Thanks to Ali, my cinematic view of Iranian films is full of varied colours.
Niran, Thailand

niran said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Isnt it ironic that we talk about the love of cinema and we go about downloading these films.I think this is totally disrespectful.

Anonymous said...

Downloading movies is bad in theory. But if we lived in a society where international film festivals are held every other month and there are video rental places that do not only cater to those who only watch mainstream bollywood, big budget hollywood and hindi serials, then, downloading can be avoided altogether... If we have the same priviledges as western movie buffs do then this could be a point of discussion but from our place in this world i doubt there is an alternative