Venice Festival sails through controversial films

  • Gautaman Bhaskaran, Hindustan Times, Venice
  • Updated: Aug 31, 2014 13:49 IST

The ongoing 71st edition of the Venice International Film Festival is sailing through one controversy after another. We saw the one that engulfed the Palestinian moviemaker, Suha Arraf’s Vila Touma. She had got Tel-Aviv peeved when she termed her film Palestinian, for the work had been funded by Israeli organisations.

And we now have Rakhshan Bani-Etemad’s feature, Tales -- which had upset Iranian censors -- in the prestigious Competition at Venice.

Tales, Rakhshan’s latest work, will crisscross the world after its Venice premiere. Toronto, Vienna, London, Thessaloniki Hamburg and Busan will be some of the stops.

In fact, Tales is actually two years old, but it could not be shown during the presidential rule of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The movie is a bold story set against the backdrop of many of the ills now plaguing Iran: the plight of women and the kind of problems students and workers face. Obviously, these had angered the censors.

However, with a slight easing of cultural restrictions in Iran now under Ahmadinejad’s successor, President, Hassan Rouhani, films like Tales seem to be breathing easy.

Still from Suha Arraf’s Vila Touma.

At a Press conference here the other day, Rakhshan lambasted Washington for the economic sanctions imposed on Iran. The director decried: "Our children who are sick with diseases such as cancer and multiple sclerosis, are paying the direct consequences of the embargo, because they cannot get the medicines they need. It’s the Iranian people who are bearing the brunt of these international decisions, which are crippling our economy and making many lives miserable."

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In many ways, the brutally frank portrayal of the turmoil in Iranian society in Tales is arresting.

The somewhat comfortable political situation in Iran has seen one more of the country’s directors, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, emerge from years of exile in London. His latest movie, The President, plays at Venice.

Inspired by the Arab Spring which led to the downfall of several Middle Eastern leaders like Hosni Mubarak, The President traces the life of a dictator who is forced to flee after a rebellion in his land and seek refuge among those very people he had tortured and jailed.

The dictator and his grandson disguise themselves first as shepherds and later as street musicians and travel around their country, and the boy sees the horrors that had been inflicted by the dictatorial regime.

(Gautaman Bhaskaran is now covering the Venice International Film Festival.)

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