One does not have to watch PERSEPOLIS to know that Iran is not a country that you want to get yourself messed-up in. However, the movie is a good introduction to anyone who wants to know broadly the recent history of Iran and the impact on the people’s life. Knowing the key events will be helpful as they serves to also demarcate the movie industry in Iran.
Recent Iranian history is now generally categorised as Pre-Revolutionary and Post-Revolutionary and the year that demarcates them is the 1978-1979 revolution that saw the toppling of the Shah/Monarch and the birth of the Islamic Republic. Most of the Iranian filmmakers that we know today emerged from the Post Revolutionary period, except probably the most well-known of them all, i.e. Abbas Kiarostami who already started working during the Pre-Revolutionary period. Post Revolutionary Iranian filmmakers include Mohsen Makhmalbaf and the members of the Makhmalbaf family (most notably his daughter Samira), Majid Majidi, Jafar Panahi and a few others. The works by these filmmakers are now more generally known as the New Iranian Cinema (not, as many thought, the Iranian New Wave since the Iranian New Wave actually precedes the New Iranian Cinema and began about a decade before the revolution).
According to Screen Digest, Iran produces about 70-80 films in the past couple of years which increased dramatically from the early 2000s where it produced about 30 films a year, so the annual output has more than doubled and exceeded that of Hong Kong. However, although I acquire quite a number of Iranian movies for the channel, I am a very auteur focused person and concentrates a lot more on the films by Abbas Kiarostami, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Jafar Panahi and to a lesser extent Majid Majidi. For me at least, these four are the pillars of New Iranian Cinema.
To the uninitiated, many of their films, especially those of Kiarostami and Makhmalbaf, will appear raw and unrefined. However, to see the movies as such is to miss the point. The point is not to focus on the technical aspect of the movie by Hollywood standards but the story that is told. The style of how the story is told is also interesting and if one is willing to empty the cup that contains Hollywood and opens up the mind to accept a different cinematic experience, these movies are very rich in content, often offering a look at the Iranian society such as the after-effects of the Iran-Iraq war, the status of women, Islamic rule, the process of modernisation of Iran and interaction with the outside world, Islamic worldview and concept of God and afterlife, and such.
Some of the New Iranian Cinema movies that I like:
Abbas Kiarostami: A Taste of Cherry; The Wind Will Carry Us; Close Up; Through the Olive Trees; Ten
Mohsen Makhmalbaf: The Cyclist; A Moment of Innocence; Time of Love; Once Upon a Time, Cinema
Jafar Panahi: The Circle; The White Balloon; The Mirror; Crimson Gold
Majid Majidi: Children of Heaven; Colour of Paradise; The Willow Tree
As time goes by, I will slowly write reviews of each of these movies and put them up on this site.