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Reviewed by:
  • Displaced Allegories: Post-Revolutionary Iranian Cinema
  • Dina Iordanova (bio)
Displaced Allegories: Post-Revolutionary Iranian Cinema, by Negar Mottahedeh, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008. xiii + 199 pages. Illust. Bibl. Index. $21.95.

I agree with Hamid Naficy's remark found on the back cover of this volume: finally, there is a book that analyzes Iranian cinema by applying "an innovative, sustained, and rigorous analysis of it using film theory." The perceptive and lucid introduction to Negar Mottahedeh's book is likely to be included on the reading list for every course on Iranian cinema from now on, as it articulates important observations on non Western cinematic traditions and simultaneously displays excellent command of feminist film theory, semiotics, apparatus theory, and reveals a deep understanding of the discourse on national cinemas. The argument is developed in an admirably succinct manner: in its "attempt to cleanse its technologies from the corrupting effects of Westernization and its stance against voyeurism," Iran's post-revolutionary film tradition in effect led to producing a cinema that is "the apotheosis of 1970s gaze theory" (p. 2). Anchored in analyzing heritage and ideology (in particular the specific Shi'ite attitude towards the use of new technologies), the analysis reveals the importance of the veiled female [End Page 512] body shown on the screen as it relates to the "acknowledged presence of the projected male viewer in front of the screen" (p. 13).

The three chapters of the book implement these ideas onto concrete material, extracted from the work of key figures of the post-revolutionary period: Barham Bayza'i, Ab-bas Kiarostami, and Mohsen Makhmalbaf. Familiarity with all the texts is pre-supposed, and indeed, many nuances of the commentary only make sense if the reader already has seen the films that are discussed. The first chapter, which takes close to half of the book's volume, deals with Bayza'i Bashu, gharibeye koochak/Bashu: The Little Stranger (1987), Shayad Vaghti Deegar/Maybe … Some Other Time (1988), and Mosaferan/The Travellers (1992), an investigation which is richly illustrated with a selection of frames, sometimes explored shot by shot, in a professionally executed sequence analysis.

The second chapter focuses predominantly on Kiarostami's films Zire darakhatan zeyton/Through the Olive Threes (1994), Bad ma ra khahad bord/The Wind Will Carry Us (1999), and Ten (2002). Here the investigation includes matters of production and reception of Iranian cinema at the international festival circuit. The idea of "displaced allegory" receives its best articulation in showing how the "rules of modesty" applied to presenting gender relations in film also serve as an allegory "of the conditions of the film industry itself" (p. 103).

In the third chapter, the author touches on Mohsen Makhmalbaf's Gabbeh (1996) and correlates the study of Iranian cinema to matters of the study of other non-Western traditions, thus bringing to the foreground important methodological considerations related to the shortcomings of the current Western-centric interpretative framework.

This is an elegant book in which the argument is kept tightly focused and does not waste energy in bringing more material in (but would have benefited from a conclusion that complements the introductory pages). Mottahedeh makes an important general point in systematically showing that various established concepts and genres (melodrama, realism) may not be directly applicable to the internal logic of non-Western cinematic traditions.

The most important promise of the study was Mottahedeh's goal to "demonstrate the paramount significance of enunciation and code-related analyses to the study of international film," an ambitious undertaking provided it takes place in a field that has traditionally treated cinema as a medium that is capable of communicating globally mostly because of the assumption that Hollywood's visual language was "universal and hence legible across national boundaries" (p. 12). Indeed, everybody who works on non-Western film material feels the time has come to give greater attention to developing a framework that allows for a more adequate study of other film traditions. Even if focused exclusively on Iranian cinema, Mottahedeh's effort makes an important contribution to the shared project of developing the study of international film. That "cinematic visuality is culturally and politically informed, and that...


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