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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Thing 128: The 13th Annual Iranian Film Festival

So, here's the thing when you open yourself up to new cultural experiences and your only criteria is that it be free:  sometimes, those experiences suck.

It was truly with an open mind and fairly high hopes that Good Friend David and I headed to the Freer Gallery on Friday night to take in Banana Skin, the film that would kick off the 13th Annual Iranian Film Festival.  Despite a degree in Middle Eastern Studies, I admit to being fairly ignorant about Iranian culture though I've heard rumors that it's vibrant, critical and exciting.

Unfortunately, the movie was none of those things.  It was an unfunny comedy, poorly acted and lacking a plot that -- how do I put this delicately -- made any sense.  The rough story is much like It's A Wonderful Life, except the opposite.  A business man so focused on making money that he has no personal life to speak of gets hit by a car and falls into a coma (are we laughing yet?).  While 'dead,' he falls in love with a beautiful woman in the afterlife.  When he wakes from the coma, he decides that the only way he can be happy is to be reunited with his love.  Which means he has to die.  Except that suicide is a sin.  So he has to die 'accidentally.'  So he hires a hit man to murder him, but the hit man is a heroin addict who forgets to kill him.  

Never have I been so nostalgic for George Bailey's rosy-cheeked children and their glee at bell-ringing.

I'd love to expound about how the different viewpoints (better off dead v. better off alive) is a metaphor for the hopeless situation in Iran whereas the American dream allows for hope and optimism.  I am sure that that would be woefully misguided.  Sometimes a bad movie is just a bad movie, and I'd sure hate for all of American culture to be judged on Sweet Home Alabama.  

I should also mention that it was pretty obvious that the subtitling was terrible.  If I spoke Farsi, this may have been an adequate movie rather than a poor one, but I can't imagine it transcending higher than that.  I'm puzzled by its inclusion in a festival designed to highlight the films of Iran, which have to get better than this.

The festival continues through February with five other films, all of which are shown free of charge at the Freer.  While I can't in good conscience recommend Banana Skin, I do urge you to cast the dice and check out one of the remaining films.  If you do, please report back in the comments and let me know your thoughts.


Anonymous said...

I agree with you that this movie is not the most thought-provoking Iranian film out there. I am a Farsi speaker and I think this movie catered a bit to the Iranian crowd.(I was there in the audience :)) I advise all non-Farsi speakers to stay away from films described as comedies as they will usually not find any substance. These are frivolous movies made to provide some comic relief to the tensions that run people lives in an oppressive society. To feel rewarded with serious and meaningful Iranian films(these are the one that win awards )the docudramas are the best and provide real insight rather than the ridiculous.

dc365 said...

This make so much sense. Thank you so much for sharing your insight, Anonymous!