AT A TIME when the news of continuing and expanding conflicts throughout the Middle East can be overwhelming, Houston’s 31st Festival of Films from Iran offers a window into a complex culture where bold, artistic endeavors can be the impetus for a better future.
The award-winning, highly acclaimed films scheduled for the festival include documentaries, family comedies, romantic dramas, and a couple of experimentally realized slasher films. One of the must-sees is Orca (2021), directed by Tehran-born Sahar Mosayebi, and starring Taraneh Alidoosti as Elham who, after nearly beaten to death by her husband, tries to drown herself in the ocean. But being a born athlete, she survives and goes on to confront the religious mores of her country (“In an Islamic country, women don’t swim!”) by becoming an endurance swimmer and attempting to swim farther than anyone has done before — with her hands bound in handcuffs.
'A Revolution on Canvas'
At the other end of the spectrum, Sundance Film Festival favorite The Persian Version (2023) is a whipsmart dramedy featuring Layla Mohammadi as Iranian-American, queer-identifying Leila, who wryly navigates the seemingly irreconcilable expectations of her two cultures. And in the award-winning documentary A Revolution on Canvas (2023), filmmakers Sara Nodjoumi and Till Schauder delve into the mystery surrounding the disappearance of more than 100 paintings by Sara’s father, Iranian artist and activist Nikzad “Nicky” Nodjoumi, who in 1980, fled Iran following the censorship of his solo exhibition Report on the Revolution and its shutdown at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art. Also screening at the MFAH are Parviz Shahbazi’s Roxana (2023) and Terrestrial Verses (2023).
Winners (2022), a dramatic film about two children in a small Iranian community who discover an Academy Award statuette (or “Oscar”) in a garbage dump and proceed to seek out its owner, screens Jan. 27 at Asia Society Texas Center. And on Feb. 2-3, Rice Cinema presents two of director Shahram Mokri’s horror films: Fish and Cat (2013), which unfolds in a non-linear single, uncut 135-minute shot, and the similarly grisly and tense Invasion (2017).
'The Persian Version'