Chronicles of Iran

Frame from the documentary "Chronicles of Iran"/ Disclosure
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By JOÃO LANARI BO*

Commentary on the film directed by Ali Asgari and Alireza Khatami, showing in cinemas

“Then the sun grew cold and fertility left the earth.”
(Forough Farrokhzad).

Chronicles of Iran is the simplistic title for the film made in 2023 by Ali Asgari and Alireza Khatami: the original title, taken from a poem by Forough Farrokhzad, would be “Earthly Verses”. Farrokhzad, writer and also filmmaker, was born in 1935 and died in 1967, victim of a car accident. His writing interpreted everyday experience without the intention of guiding, educating, leading…it is an accurate portrait of the pain and pleasure of an entire generation experiencing radical change., as one of your readers, Farzaneh Milani, says.

The mental language operations that result in translated film titles, in addition to commercial objectives, undoubtedly deserve separate studies: in this case, unfortunately, it mirrored impoverishment. The US distributor escaped the trap and launched the product as “Terrestrial Verses”. The directors' homage to Forough is not circumstantial – it rebuts, at the same time, the perspective of the poem's modernist tradition and that of post-1979 Iranian cinema, paying attention to the contemporary theocratic authoritarianism of the Iranian Islamic Republic.

All this, barely summarizing, with no intention of guiding, educating, leading…A minimalist and poetic portrait that captures, for a brief lapse, small and fleeting interactions of what are conventionally called mentalities, with all the historical charge that the term suggests. There are nine episodes or vignettes in “Chronicles of Iran”, nine characters: fixed camera, someone being interrogated or interrogated, a single look, the spectator's point of view shared with the point of view of the authority who interrogates. In principle, there are no edits within each interrogation – the performance time is real time, fiction and documentary merge in an unlikely synthesis.

In the first, we see a young man standing before a notary insisting on the name he and his wife want to give their newborn – Davi. The employee refuses, it's not an Islamic name, or Iranian, or anything like that: and asks, who is your favorite author? Gholam Hossein Saedi, responds the young man. One private joke For the Iranian audience, Gholam is in fact a left-wing writer who is an enemy of the regime, exiled in Paris after 1979, Wikipedia reports. The bureaucrat seems not to understand the irony and insists, always hidden in the opposite shot, why not just Hossein? The young man responds that Hossein is Arab, not Iranian.

Next, in a shopping mall that breathes airs of the demonic capitalism of the West, Selena: she is eight or nine years old, wears headphones and dances to the TikTok beat, wearing a Mickey Mouse blouse. Outside the field, female voices discuss appropriate clothing for an event, something that covers the body and hair, a veil, the infamous hijab. Selena enters and leaves the frame, until her body transfigures the Islamic, automated body. The mother is reluctant, but accepts the transformation. Once the ordeal is over, the girl gets rid of her excessive clothing and returns to TikTok.

Here, the ululating obvious, Nelson Rodrigues would say – the piece of cloth known as hijab it is the most politicized artifact on the scene in this formidable country that is Iran, one of humanity's cultural breadbaskets (the ancient Greeks knew this). The arrest and death of the young Kurdish Mahsa Amini, in 2022 – followed by massive protests and pathetic and macabre executions – was due to the incorrect use, according to the religious police, of the hijab. There are almost 90 million Iranians whose political future depends on this simple piece of cloth. Making its use optional is the reformists' bold proposal.

In another episode, app driver Sadaf, in her early 20s, tries to recover her car detained by the local DMV – she was caught on surveillance cameras without her hijab. Sadaf insists on her right to privacy, but the interlocutor ignores her and hurries to lunch.

The next, another young woman, Faezah, embarrassed and shy in a job interview, could work without her hijab (this is a private company). The generous offer, however, hides a grossly sexist purpose – the transgression of the religious canon acts as a trigger for predatory seduction.

It's not new that life isn't easy for Iranian filmmakers – and it wouldn't be any different for Ali Asgari. Back in Tehran after showing “Chronicles of Iran” in Cannes, he had his passport confiscated to prevent him from participating in international festivals and, worse, he was threatened with arrest, especially if he persisted with his desire to direct films (Alireza Khatami lives in Canada and was left out of the repressive rage).

The vignettes that follow each other in Asgari and Khatami's film suggest, ultimately, a mirror game of repressions and restrictions – inside and outside the film that plays before our eyes.

*Joao Lanari Bo He is a professor of cinema at the Faculty of Communication at the University of Brasília (UnB). Author, among other books, of Cinema for Russians, Cinema for Soviets (Time Bazaar). [https://amzn.to/45rHa9F]

Technical sheet

Direction: Ali AsghariAlireza Khatami

road map Ali AsghariAlireza Khatami

Cast: Servin ZabetiyanSadaf AsgariFaezeh Rad

Original title Ayeh haye zamini


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