Arrow Video: The Poetic Trilogy (1996-2012) - Reviewed

Controversial Iranian film maker, Mohsen Makhmalbaf's films not only visually charter the Iranian experience, they are surreal explorations of sociopolitical and religious journeys that define the relationship between a people and their country.  A youthful revolutionary, Makhmalbaf was imprisoned for five years for stabbing a police officer and was subsequently released during the Iranian revolution.  Now an expat who resides in France, Makhmalbaf has evolved as a filmmaker, abandoning traditional forms of storytelling for potent symbolism and vibrant colors.  His films have been honored throughout the globe at various festivals and three of his most unique offerings have been collected by Arrow Video and released in a singular package as The Poetic Trilogy.  

Gabbeh (1996)

The first film in the set, Gabbeh is named after an heirloom rug that an elderly couple are washing in a river.  A beautiful young woman who shares the same name emerges and recounts a heartbreaking tale about isolation, discrimination, and possible redemption.  Banned in Iran for being "subversive" this is a beautifully shot, heart breaking exploration women within Iran's social constructs.   

The Silence (1998)

Perhaps the most surreal of the trilogy, The Silence deals with a blind child who is the primary source of income for his family.  His condition has gifted him a remarkable talent with instruments as well a playful obsession with music.  Steeped with heavy Sufi related symbolism, The Silence was also banned in Iran for two years.  It is a continuation of his free form style that builds into a remarkable climax.  Balance as a concept is not only analyzed, but revered.  Of the three films, this is the strongest entry, blending symbolic presentation with powerful, everyday colors and vivid snapshots of street life in Iran.  

The Gardener (2012)

The first film to be made by an Iranian in Israel in decades, the final film in the set is The Gardener, a documentary in which Makhmalbaf and his son seek to learn about various religions.  The bulk of the film deals with Makhmalbaf himself, as he seeks to understand the religion of his people.  This is showcased through various shots of Baha'i Gardens, a holy site in Iran.  Conversely, his sons travels to other locations in Jerusalem.   One of the most striking aspects of the film is in its restrained presentation.  While the devotion of its various subjects cannot be denied, zealotry has no place within Makhmalbaf's faithful sonnet.  Love for another and love for God is of import, rather than religion's place within society.  The film has been banned in Iran since its debut in 2012.  

While each of these films is challenging, they each present a daring, fresh perspective on Iranian culture.   While some may be repelled by the non-linear narrative, there is so much love, both for the people of Iran and for cinema itself, that trivialities such as plot can be ignored in favor of three unique experiences that wash over the viewer like a warm bath.   These are remarkable films made in a whirlwind of violent political and religious upheaval.   Viewing them not only reinforces the truth that light will shine no matter how dark the night is, it is also a gentle reminder that beauty is everywhere, even the most unexpected places.  

-Kyle Jonathan