The recent Los Angeles premiere of “Tales” (Ghesse-ha) by writer-director Rakshan Bani-Etemad, was part of the UCLA Film and Television Archive’s Celebration of Iranian Cinema. I saw this touching and courageous film about life in Tehran as the guest of the Farhang Foundation, which promotes Iranian arts and culture. The movie was nominated for a Golden Lion and won Best Screenplay at the Venice Film Festival.
“Tales” is a series of snapshots of urban life in today’s Tehran. Featuring colorful characters that “cross over” from one story to another, these vivid accounts depict universal situations. In one chapter, a van full of dissident male factory workers stops to pick up an older woman that the workers hope can negotiate with management on their behalf. She not only calms the group — she becomes the lone voice of sanity and strength in the van. In another, a man is given a letter written to his wife by her ex-husband. Here emotions arc from distrust and anger to unconditional love and forgiveness, highlighting the woman’s loyalty and fierce strength.
In the last chapter, a taxi driver picks up a female friend who has rescued a suicidal homeless girl. With the half-drugged girl as the silent onlooker, the young taxi driver and his friend bicker about life and politics, underscored by a sexual innuendo that climaxes during the journey. In the end an emotional bombshell is dropped that shifts the whole tenor of the scene.
The director/writer so skillfully commands a fluid documentary style that we seem to be looking in on these people’s lives from inches away. As feelings shift, the colors shift, from sepia tones to vivid shades. Everyday sounds are carefully chosen to accompany feelings. In the Q&A that followed the screening, Ms. Bani-Etemad commented that censorship in Iran ebbs and flows, and under the new administration she was finally able to release this set of stories, which has a startling level of realism and sharp commentary on social injustice.
This film changed my preconceptions about Iran’s culture and society. I was surprised to find that this director was able to graduate in 1973 from the Faculty of Dramatic Arts in Filmmaking and immediately join Iranian TV as an assistant director. She started working in television at the age of 18, and, to judge from the reaction of the mostly Persian-American audience, Bani-Etemad is revered as an artist in her home country. And commendably, she gives her award money to charities, especially those that help homeless women.
I came away from the theatre with the impression that in spite of Iran’s relatively unstable government, the ancient Persian culture has grown a wise and clear-eyed view of humanity, and that their women have drawn strength and courage beneath their burkas and hijabs. In these “Tales,” the men fight valiantly to get in touch with their feelings while the women are the rocks of stability.
One screening: Saturday, May 16 at 3 p.m., at the Billy Wilder Theatre at the Hammer Museum, 10899 Wilshire Blvd. Phone: (310) 443-7000. Tickets are $10; parking under the building is $3.
Not rated. 88 minutes.
Kathryn Whitney Boole was drawn into the entertainment industry as a kid and never left. It has been the backdrop for many awesome adventures with crazy creative people. She now works as a Talent Manager with Studio Talent Group in Santa Monica. Reach her email@example.com.