Kiseye Berendj (1998) (Bag Of Rice)
Mohammad Ali-Talebi’s (aptly) modestly titled Bag of Rice (1998) is the sort of film that is generally associated with Iranian cinema, thanks in no small part to the works of Majid Majidi: a drama of everyday events shot on location, with little or no music, usually involving children maneuvering through narrow bylanes in the outskirts of Tehran. These are, no doubt, conservative films that attempt to represent the country on a larger scale, perhaps even serve as a right-wing corrective to the ‘scandalous’ festival films. More than any other film of this ‘anti-movement’, it is Bag of Rice that appears the most unapologetic about its stance. Evil does not exist in Talebi’s film, at least as an active agent. Bad things happen not because of bad deeds, but just due to accidents. Even in films such as It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) or Rio Bravo (1959), there is at least a notion of evil (in the form of a social pervert or an outsider) which is utilized to build a case for conservatism. Not in Bag of Rice, a film that reveals itself as one of the most ethical and effective defences of that ideology. Every one in the city offers to help the old woman and the little girl who travel to the city to buy the titular sack of rice. One person’s task is distributed – like the rice in the bag – and executed willingly by a group. Both grandma and the kid have their own needs and (voluntary) responsibilities that play tug-of-war with each other, but the pair works through them amicably. Although the scenario keeps highlighting the financial crunch of its characters, conflict between classes is dissolved into an organic, throbbing, seamless and wholesome portrait of a community, in which clashes of interest, instead of rupturing relationships, are resolved through compassion and understanding. When the little girl wears the scarf for the first time towards the end, during a ceremony of communal good will, one wonders whether to read through the fissures of the film’s hardline, pro-revolution message or to appreciate the graciousness of what’s on the plate.
(Posted as part of the ongoing Iranian Film Blogathon at Sheila O’Malley‘s. Formidable collection of articles on Iranian cinema building up…)