Iranian Films: Essential Guide

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Among the must-see movies in the history of cinema, Iranian films play an important role. While the West is experiencing a phase of artistic decline that seems inexorable compared to the turmoil of the 60s and 70s, some Eastern and Middle Eastern countries seem increasingly oriented towards creating arthouse films and interesting artistic experiments. This is the case with Iranian cinema.

The cause is probably to be found in difficult living conditions, often on the verge of survival. The more a country seems to have a difficult relationship with material well-being, the more it seems to produce an extreme, new, necessary cinema of spiritual survival

Iranian cinema is considered to be among the most important arthouse cinemas in the world, and reached its greatest notoriety during the 1990s. Theatrical programming is dominated by Iranian commercial films such as westerns. The production of arthouse films is very lively, especially in the independent sector where films are made for a home video circuit. 

Some films are shown in international festivals and are shown in Iranian cinemas, becoming more popular. For example, films like “I’m Taraneh, 15” by Rassul Sadr Ameli, “Under the skin of the City” by Rakhshan Bani-Etemad, “Marooned in Iraq” by Bahman Ghobadi and “Women’s Prison” by Manijeh Hekmat.

The Iranian commercial films

The commercial Iranian cinema is unknown in the West and is not exported. It is aimed at a young audience under 30, and is a cinema designed specifically for local audiences. 

It differs into three different categories. Films about the Iranian revolution of 1979 and the Iran-Iraq war. They are films full of patriotism and religious dogmas. For example titles like Eagles, Barzakhiha, The Viper, Dadshah, Boycott, Duel, Taraj, Ekhrajiha, The Glass Agency, Kani Manga, Ofogh, Bashu, the Little Stranger, Leily Ba Man Ast, M as in Mother and The Night Bus.

The most successful Iranian films are mostly romantic comedies commercial. After the war, people always looked for an escape and sentimental stories in the cinema to daydream. This genre of film, from the 80s onwards, makes more money than all the others. 

For example films such as The Lizard, The Blue Veil, Ghermez, Leila, Outsiders, Char Changooli, Kolah Ghermezi and Pesar Khaleh, Kolah Ghermezi and Bache Naneh, The Actor, Ejareh-Nesheenha, Shokaran, Dayere Zangi, Aquarius, Cease fire , No Men Allowed, Mutated Man, Quack, Solomon’s Reign, Driving Patrol, Killing Mad Dogs, A Parting and Silence! Girls Don’t Scream. These are post-revolution films that have achieved box office records. 

For a long time, the most beloved face of Iranian commercial cinema was actor Mohammad Ali Fardin. However, he was considered a scandalous character by Islamic conservatives after the 1979 revolution: he was the interpreter of characters always in search of strong emotions, alcohol, drugs, women, night clubs. 

Mohammad Ali Fardin

A character specially designed to be successful that made Iranian cinema audiences dream with a dissolute and sinful Western lifestyle. The Islamic government blocked his films and barred him from working, but the actor’s popularity remained intact until his death. 

A real popular crowd was present at his funeral. Mohammad Ali Fardin represented for the Iranian cinema audience that lifestyle that is impossible to obtain in Iran, for which the population still yearns. When there is poverty and conflict, it is normal to desire greater material well-being, even if the model proposed by the West seems to be a model of self-destruction. But at this time there are no other models. 

During the conflict years, thrillers such as Senator, The Eagles, Boycott, The Tenants and Kani Manga occupied the top position at the box office of cinemas.

Officially the Iranian government disdains American cinema but does not prevent it from being distributed in Iran. The criticism of the government and of the Islamic religion is that American cinema is not a cinema that bears values, but a commercial product for its own sake, without ethics and morals. Despite this, most of the films circulating in Iranian cinemas and home video stores are US films that are hugely successful. 

American films such as those of Steven Spielberg, Brian De Palma, Mel Gibson, the 007 saga, make up most of the film market share in Iran, and are hugely successful, especially among young people. Television also broadcasts them regularly to exploit their audience. 

New Wave of Iranian cinema

The Cow

New Iranian  Wave was the most important artistic movement of Iranian cinema, since the beginning of the sixties.documentaryis indicated as the progenitor of the movement Forough Farrokhzad’sThe house is black. The movement then finally begins in 1964 with the film Hajir Darioush, based on the novel The Lover of Lady Chatterley. 

In 1968 the film Shohare Ahoo Khanoom directed by Davoud Mollapour was released.released in 1969 The Cow, directed by Dario Mehrjui, was followed byfilm Masoud Kimiai’sQeysar. Then it’s time for Nasser Taqvai with the film Tranquility in the presence of others. The New Wave becomes a cultural and artistic trend, in which famous intellectuals are interested.

The cinematic New Wave of the 1960s also involves Iran, spreading from France to various countries around the world. The first directors of the Iranian New Wave are Forough Farrokhzad, Sohrab Shahid Saless, Bahram Beizai and Parviz Kimiai. 

The Sixties are a period in which audiences and directors from all over the world question the contents offered to them by the industry. There is an air of renewal that is transmitted, precisely, like a new wave. 

The most important directors who have established themselves in the Iranian New Wave over the years are Abbas Kiarostami, Jafar Panahi, Majid Majidi, Bahram Beizai, Dario Mehrjui, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Khosrow Sinai, Sohrab Shahid-Saless, Parviz Kimiavi, Samira Makhmalbaf, Amir Naderi, and Abolfazl Jalili. They treated Iranian politics, philosophy and culture like never before. 

The artistic climate in Iran had changed since the coup d’etat of 19 August 1953. A great ferment had begun, especially thanks to the golden age of Persian literature. This turmoil culminated in the 1960s with the creation of several art movements and the Iranian New Wave. A type of film that we could define as postmodern. 

The Iranian films of the New Wave have a style strongly inspired by Italian Neorealism, but they differ in some characteristics. Neorealist films tell reality but with actors and fiction. The Iranian cinema identifies with the production methods of the best independent cinema, where there is no clear boundary between documentary and fiction, between reality and staging. 


New Wave Iranian cinema comes to influence European films such as some productions by Michael Winterbottom. An example of this type of cinema in the most recent independent Italian production is for example Fabio del Greco’s The smartphone woman, Appennino by Emiliano Dante, and many other Italian indie films that make reality their strong point. 

Iranian film critics see the possibility of freeing themselves from the univocal representation of Islamic man in modern Iranian film. It is finally a question of telling the individual in the flow of history and not within religious representations. 

the third generation of Iranian director-authors is made up of names such as Rafi Pitts, Bahman Ghobadi, Maziar Miri, Asghar Farhadi, Mani Haghighi and Babak Payami, Saman Salur and Abdolreza Kahani.

Iranian folk art cinema 

Along with the New Wave and Iranian arthouse films there is a popular art cinema aimed at a wider audience. These are directors who do not appeal to a refined intellectual audience but to a popular audience while retaining a poetic and artistic style. 

Nasser Taghvaee and Ali Hatami are the best known directors of popular arthouse cinema. Darius Mehrjui also makes films that are considered to belong to the New Wave. The Demon and the Bald Hassan, Adam and Eve, The Fisherman’s Story, The City of Oranges and Talisman are some of Hatami’s popular arthouse films.

Iranian female films 

After the rise in popularity of Iranian arthouse cinema, many women graduate every year in the country’s film schools. Iranian women’s cinema is experiencing a golden age, with directors such as Samira Makhmalbaf, who made her first film, The Apple, when she was only 17. He then won the Jury Prize at Cannes in 2000 for his next film, The Blackboard.

The most important Iranian female directors, known inside and outside Iraq, are Rakhshan Bani-Etemad, Samira Makhmalbaf, Tahmineh Milani, Niki Karimi. 

Marjane Satrapi, animation director and illustrator, winner of awards at the Cannes Film Festival and the Rotterdam Film Festival. Tahmineh Milani, winner of important awards in Arab and Oriental Festivals and winner of the Los Angeles Film Festival for The Unwanted Woman Movie, a 2005 film.

Rakhshan Bani-Etemad began her career in 1995 with her film The Blue-Veiled at Locarno Film Festival. Since then, his subsequent films have been selected in the most important international festivals, such as the Moscow Festival and the Turin Film Festival. Her film Tales was selected at the Venice Film Festival in 2014. 

Other award-winning women directors of Iranian cinema are: Manijeh Hekmat and the films Zendane Zanan, Pouran Derakhshandeh. Niki Karimi, Marzieh Meshkini, Hana Makhmalbaf. 

Iranian war films


Iranian war cinema was born during the Iran-Iraq conflict. Some particularly inspired and poetic films have been made such as In the Alleys of Love (1990), by Khosrow Sinai. The film was produced by the Iranian government but had several difficulties in making. 

Iranian war cinema has always had the aim of spreading propaganda messages, where war is seen in a positive way, as a mission for the betterment of society. But films like Tears of Cold and Duel have surpassed this sanctioned government-enforced vision.

Many war film directors of Italian cinema have had considerable success. Here is the list of the main ones. 

Morteza Avini, famous for the war documentary Ravayat-e Fath. Shahriar Bahrani directed the film Attack on H3. Mohammad Bozorgnia is his film Jang-e naftkesh-ha. Ahmad Reza Darvish with the film Duel. Seifollah Dad and the movie Kani Manga. Samuel Khachikian and the film Eagles. Ebrahim Hatamikia and his films Mohajer, Az Karkheh ta Rhein, Booy-E Pirahan-E Yusef, The Glass Agency and Che. Mohsen Makhmalbaf for the film The Marriage of the Blessed. Rasoul Mollagholipour for Safar be Chazabeh and Mim Mesle Madar. Ali Shah Hatami for Akharin Shenasaee. Kamal Tabrizi for Dar Maslakh-e Eshgh and Leily Ba Man Ast. Kiumars Pourahmad for the night bus. Behzad Behzadpour for Khodahafez Rafigh. 

Other popular war films

Other war films of Iranian cinema are: Goodbye Life directed by Ensieh Shah-Hosseini, Heeva, Mazrae-ye pedari and Safar be Chazabeh directed by Rasoul Mollagholipour, Kirkuk Operation, Hoor on Fire and Kani Manga directed by Seifollah Dad. Che, Az Karkheh ta Rhein, Mohajer and The Red Ribbon directed by Ebrahim Hatamikia. Big drum under the left foot directed by Kazem Masoumi. Gilaneh, of Rakhshan Bani-Etemad. The third day directed by Mohammad Hossein Latifi. The reward of silence, by Maziar Miri. Sizdah 59 directed by Saman Salur. The Queen, directed by Mohammad Ali Bashe Ahangar. Mardi shabih-e baran directed by Saeed Soheili. Bashu, the little foreigner directed by Bahram Beyzai. Snake Fang directed by Masoud Kimiai and Hoor dar Atash directed by Azizollah Hamidnezhad.

Iranian animation cinema

Iranian artists have a very ancient tradition in the making of animations. An important animation film festival is held in Tehran. The main directors at Iranian animation cinema are: Noureddin Zarrin-Kelk, Bahram Azimi, Ali Akbar Sadeghi. 

French Influence on the Iranian New Wave  

Abbas Kiarostami

Iranian New Wave cinema has had a strong connection with the French New Wave. Many Iranian students from the 1950s and 1960s emigrated to France to study and Iranian UN Ambassador Fereydoun Hoveyda it played an important role in the French cultural scene. In particular he was well known in the world of cinema and was a friend of Francois Truffaut. He contributed to the creation of the famous magazine Le Cahier du cinema and also worked with the Italian director Roberto Rossellini so there was a bridge between the culture of French cinema and the culture of Iranian cinema.

Jacques Prévert’s girlfriend Shusha Guppywas an Iranian singer and director. Thecomposer of the early films truffaut Francois and Jean-Luc Godard was SergeRezvani,Iranian poet born in Tehran. Farah Diba Ha studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in France and became a permanent member of it. Other Iranian artists began their artistic careers in France, such as Robert Hossein.

Censorship in Iranian cinema


Iranian cinema has always enjoyed the activity of countless artists of great value, but they have regularly had to deal with the strict rules of censorship, before and after the revolution. Some Iranian directors have found it difficult to distribute their films overseas. Pioneering Iranian New Wave film The Cow‘s 1969 Dariush Mehrjui was produced by the state. But the same state censored it at the time of distribution because the Shah did not want that vision of rural life to spread at a time when the priority was the progressive image of Iran. The film and its festival awards has long bothered the regime.

After the Iranian revolution, many filmmakers have been victims of censorship, which has diminished since 1987. The application of the rules is often arbitrary: some films are blocked, others are allowed to be exported abroad. The evaluation criteria are rather inconsistent. all offilms Jafar Panahi’s have been blocked by censorship. Many offilms Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s are banned in Iran, such as Time of Love, due to erotic scenes and critical views on the revolution. Feminist director Tahmineh Milani was jailed for making the film The Hidden Half because its content was deemed anti-revolutionary. Many Iranian artists and directors have asked for his release which took place after 8 days of imprisonment.


In Nargess , Rakhshan Bani-Etemad, another Iranian female director, questions the morality of society, pushing herself to the limits of censorship codes. Abbas Kiarostami is a famous director in Europe but the Islamic government has always blocked the screening of his films. In Iran, his works can only be found on illegal DVDs and clandestine screenings. 

Kiarostami doesn’t have a clear idea of ​​what the government doesn’t like about his films and says: “I think they don’t understand my films and so they prevent me from distributing them in case there is a message they don’t want to release.” Although Kiarostami always wanted to stay in Iran to create his new films. He says: “The most important thing today is that despite the censorship, Iranian filmmakers can do their job and overcome difficulties. Difficulties have always existed in our country and our role is to overcome them.

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