Friday, June 12, 2015


Iranian screenwriter and director Mohammad Rasoulof has balls. Really big ones, my friends. While awaiting disposition for his conviction on earlier charges, and apparently while still living in Tehran, he wrote and directed his most recent film, Manuscripts Don't Burn (2013), which is about domestic intelligence agents carrying out a mission against several intellectuals and writers who have either written about, are contemplating writing about, or are protecting an existing manuscript that describe an earlier failed assassination attempt against twenty-one writers (by driving them in a bus off a cliff) by the repressive and murderous regime. One agent, a bumbling everyman with concern for the welfare of his family, especially an ill son who is seeking surgery in a hospital, and whose participation in the events depicted struggles with his role, is also ironically the same individual who muffed the original assassination attempt. One wonders, and it is hinted at, that he was specifically chosen for this current assignment. The unit is headed by a smooth, dapper, creepy, intense case manager/censor, and the hunt is on for the original manuscript and any existing copies. The third agent (discounting that there are other members of the organization participating, but they are mostly in support roles and you see only one of them), is a thuggish, idealistic professional hitman who seems to represent the basij element in Iranian society. The targets are three men: a noted author trying to get his book into print without it being censored; his friend and fellow intellectual, entrusted to hide a copy; and a dying third writer who is desperate to get an exit visa from the country in order to see his daughter one last time. The movie is purposely gray, filmed in shadow or in rain, with muted colors and low horizon, reflecting the blanket of oppression experienced by most Iranians since the ascension of clerical rule. About the only light I remember was a prominent display of the Milad Tower through a window at night. The depiction of domestic repression and surveillance is chilling; though seemingly crude in many ways, it is all encompassing and intrusive, and the reaction of participants, even as they resist, is one of defeat. The simple torture of one individual is intense and disturbing, as he struggles for breath. One can only imagine the bravery, not only of Rasoulof, but of the actors and crew that worked on this film. And I know, as an American, though I have love and empathy for the Iranian people, there are likely many visual and verbal references and allusions that sweep right by my, that probably intensify the story for those lucky enough to see the movie in Iran, or those many exiles around the globe. Clearly most knowledgeable people are aware of Evin, the oppression of women, and the intrusive policing and spying by domestic agencies, but this movie brings that reality into, oddly enough, sharper focus. Although there are many chilling and depressing incidents in the movie, one particular scene (which I will not spoil for you) is especially troubling, the conclusion as cloudy as the cinematography, but darkly implied nonetheless. This is not a feel-good movie. I encourage people to view it, and hope the underground distribution network makes it available to Iranians at home. Of course, it won't be telling them anything they don't already know. And I hope Rasoulof has a long career, though his walking so close to the edge of the abyss is scary.

While I am on the subject of Iran, I must heartily applaud the equally brave stance by many women protesting against mandatory hajib usage by posting pictures online with their hair uncovered. As you would think God intended, because he made women beautiful. I proudly support Masih Alinejad and Stealthy Freedoms of Iranian Women. Repression, oppression, and and other evils have many opponents, none greater and more influential than women! If all women could unite in their countries and break the restrictions imposed by men, I think this world would be a wonderful place. We can only hope.

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