Friday, February 26, 2010

Shirin--the perfumed movie


This is a film within a film. An audience of over a hundred beautiful Persian women (in fact all renowned Iranian actresses and one French one) are watching a film based on the legendary love story of Shirin and Rostow.

We, the audience of the present film see nothing of the screen. We hear the sounds and score and dialogue and we participate through the reactions of the audience. The camera shifts from face to face and the substance of the film is the study of these female faces in there reactions to this apparently moving traditional drama. In effect we are being treated to a prolonged voyeuristic experience of the female face in moments of intimate emotional response. We see them smile, adjust their scarfs, we see their eyes moisten, at times the tears flowing freely right down to the mouth. At other times they are just watching in rapt attention.

Certainly an unusual and novel format for a movie, For me it was a riveting experience and I was even in suspense how it would end. The unseen film is poignantly conveyed through the incredible resonance and depth of feeling of both the male and female voices, more than making up for the absence of the visual, which in any thing could not have been anything but inadequate to express the richness and poetry of the epic. Bresson says that the ear is more profound than the eye; the ear represents the inside, the eye the outside, of things. Instead, it's spirit is perfectly captured in the carefully edited and masterfully framed mosaic of faces. Not to speak of the sounds-the neighs and whinnies, the clash of metal and the flowing streams.

In olden days in India the there were those truly learned men like Faiz, Iqbal and Firaq, equally at home with Shakespeare and Persian literature. Persian was the language of refined romantic and philosophical poetry, a step beyond Urdu. It is language which is recognizable (one can catch near familiar words here and there) even if foreign, and in that sense is less foreign than English, for all one's acquired proficiency in the latter.

The present epic is in series with Waris Shah's Heer, Laila Majnu and the like, and the device employed to transform it into a modern inter-cultural experience is entirely successful. It becomes an essay on the human capacity for yearning and desire, a perfumed garden of the heart. A conventional treatment would have given us little more than a puppet show or folk theater.
Reviews Alan Fair/Steve Tiller

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