Once Upon a Time, Cinema | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Once Upon a Time, Cinema

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An entertaining if somewhat uneven departure by Mohsen Makhmalbaf--perhaps the most versatile contemporary Iranian director, and certainly one of the most talented, prolific, and controversial--this 1992 film can be regarded in part as a kind of peace offering to the Iranian government after the banning of his two previous features (loosely comparable as a gesture to The Story of Qiu Ju as a follow-up to the banned films of Zhang Yimou). A fantasy and comedy about the birth of Iranian cinema, full of whimsical special effects and wacky magical-realism conceits, this is centered on an early cinematographer (Mehdi Hashemi)--modeled loosely and rather awkwardly on Chaplin's tramp figure--who introduces movies to the Persian court, gradually winning over the shah (Ezatollah Entezami) to the new medium once the ruler falls for an actress (Fatemeh Motamed-Aria) who literally drops from the screen into the palace. Quirkily inventive and unpredictable, the film concludes with a sentimental anthology of clips celebrating the history of Iranian cinema that calls Oscar night to mind; before this, much more interesting uses are made of a silent film identified by Makhmalbaf as the first Iranian movie, Ebrahim Khan's Hajagha, the Film Actor. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Friday, October 1, 6:00, and Sunday, October 3, 7:00, 443-3737.

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