Iranian cinema was first put on the map when the films of Abbas Kiarostami caught the attention of the west. The avant-garde style and the peculiar yet totally fresh concept of “plotlessness” impressed the critics, invariably, throughout the world. After Kiarostami had made way for Iranian filmmakers… Read More

Bicycleran (1987) (aka The Cyclist)
Mohsen Makhmalbaf

“His name is Nasim (Breeze), but he resembles a typhoon. He rides bicycle blindfolded. This man has stopped a train in India with his eyes. In Pakistan, he’s lifted two bulls on a finger and this time he is gonna ride and live on a bicycle for 7 days round the clock.”


The cyclistThe objectives, outlooks and needs of different levels of a community, naturally, do not concur. One man’s grief is another man’s pleasure. Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s Bicycleran (1987) captures this difference in the context of an event as viewed from people from different sections of the society. Though a bit more dramatic than most films then from Iran, Bicycleran has enough raw power and truth value to be classified under the neo-realistic genre.

Nasim is a Afghani labourer whose wife is sick and is in need of immediate treatment. Times are hard and labourers cannot expect more than 50 Tomans per day for their work. But Nasim’s requirements are higher and he tries everything he can including a feigned suicide attempt to blackmail people into giving money. Finally, through a bookie, Nasim agrees to put up a show where he would be riding a bicycle for 7 continuous days. The show begins amidst a lot of objections and . with time pedestrians and vendors begin to gather around him. Nasim witnesses his own exploitation by various people from different strata of society – vendors making it their sales hub, middlemen betting and common people getting relief from his plight. In spite of a lot of physical, emotional and social obstacles Nasim manages to finish the 7 days. At the time of glory, Nasim is asked to dismount from the bicycle by the reporters. He is indifferent to all the commotion (possibly because of the physical and mental fatigue) and continues to ride in the circular path.

The film can be viewed as an allegory of the struggles of the working class, a society that exploits them and an upper class that views them as objects of amusements. The recurrent themes of roundness that occur through the images of wheels, cycles and structures signify the vicious circle of fate and inevitability that the working class treads in. The film won the best film at the Hawaii Film Festival in 1987.

Gabbeh (1996)
Mohsen Makhmalbaf

“Life is colour”

GabbehA co-production of the French and the Iranian film industry, Gabbeh (1996) is perhaps the best and most typical starting point for the westerners who would like to get an insight into the cinema of the east. Released in 1996 Gabbeh has managed to enchant the westerners and the Asians alike for not only its artistic merits but also for its subtle exposure of the culture of Iran. The film is centered around a nomadic tribe, which is tightly bound by blood relations. The tribe has its own rituals and beliefs which it passes on for posterity. One such practice is the weaving of carpets for a person depicting the journey of their life. The tribe carries and updates the carpets wherever they go.

The film begins with an old couple who are at the river side washing one such carpet. They envisage a young lady representative of the carpet and converse with her. The young lady has a story to tell- one that of forbidden love. She takes us through her life’s ordeals, her moments of joy, dissatisfaction and sorrow. Representing various emotions, colours play a very important role in the film. These colours blend with the carpet to tell stories of the people it has been with. So do the various landscapes that the tribe wanders through. The animals too, in the film are representative of the oneness of the clan and the alienation of the beloved of the young lady.

Running over just a hour and a quarter, the film is succinct and opts to show what it wants rather than talk. The film opened ways for subsequent Iranian films to reach out to the world and display their artistic and film making abilities. For its poetic direction and striking use of imagery, the film won the Best Artistic Contribution Award in the Tokyo International Film Festival.