Tales of an Island

Two leading Iranian directors, the gifted Darhius Mehrjui and the sublime Mohsen Makhmalbaf, made the two short films, both unfolding on Kish Island, that comprise this work. Mehrjui's film, “Lost Cousin,” opens with a virtuoso image—a beautiful young woman in a white, diaphanous wedding gown being swallowed by the sea. Her fiance, guided by her voice, attempts to retrieve her soul. Mehrjui works in two forms that are distinctly at odds with each other—magic realism and an intimate, reflexive Iranian hypernaturalism—and the result is flat and emotionally disjointed. Worse, the central visual idea, the woman's soul materializing in the sky above the frantic man, seems borrowed from Woody Allen's segment of New York Stories. Makhmalbaf's “Testing Democracy,” shot on video and made in collaboration with his friend Shahabodin Farokh-yar, is a loose, rambling essay about the struggle against the rigid social and political order of Iran, a struggle for human rights and the right of personal expression. Makhmalbaf and Farokh-yar have a wonderful feel for sensory and spontaneous expression—unconventional political demonstrations, young women collecting voting ballots in the sea—and their humanist, emotionally direct inquiries provide a fresh point of view. If you've seen Makhmalbaf's “The Door”—his suberb contribution to Tales of Kish, a 1999 triptych also set on Kish Island—you'll better understand the frustration and revelation Makhmalbaf experiences working with his lead “actor,” a local tribesman who fights with the director over the physical demands of his role. But it's not crucial to have seen the previous film, for this remains a deft portrait that captures the distress and anxiety of a culture adrift and uncertain of itself. Essential viewing. 76 min.

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