7½ Essential Iranian Films

New Iranian cinema came into being in the 70s and it was then that the cinema of Iran truly took off, becoming the most significant film industry in the middle east. Directors like Abbas Kiarostami and Mossen Makhmalbaf were at the forefront of this revolution and both made some of the most popular films in Iranian history. Many of the films are focused on the tumultuous climate related to the divide between the classes or men and women and how religion has shaped the evolution of Iranian politics.

Children of Heaven – A family story about a pair of siblings searching for the sister’s missing pair of shoes. This film focuses on approachability and crafts a family drama that gives adults and children alike the opportunity to find something engaging for all ages.

Close-Up – Abbas Kiarostami was in the midst of preparing for a different film when an opportunity to tell a unique story presented itself. Part documentary, part reenactment, this film follows a man who impersonates director Mossen Makhmalbaf and ends up on trial for his crime which prompts Kiarostami to involve himself in order to tell the full story.

Gabbeh – A fantasy film featuring a woman whose mysterious appearance out of a rug prompts an elaborate story told to an elderly couple who have differing reactions to the story. Director Mossen Makhmalbaf made plenty of other films that could take this spot on the list, but the uniqueness of this film warrants its inclusion.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night – Commonly classified as an Iranian vampire western, Ana Lily Amirpour’s film crafts something dark and twisted with black-and-white cinematography to further highlight the isolationist nature of its protagonist. Sheila Vand gives a powerfully quiet performance as the murderous, yet sympathetic vampire as she haunts a deserted Iranian landscape.

The Salesman – Asghar Farhadi is the most important Iranian director presently working and all of his films utilize exterior stimuli to put pressure on the relationships of its protagonists. The Salesman follows a couple putting on a version of Arthur Miller’s ‘Death of a Salesman’ as they deal with the wife’s recovery from an attack.

A Separation – Another of Farhadi’s films, arguably his most well-known, that focuses on a couple in the midst of a marital separation as one desires to leave Iran while the other can’t. Farhadi uses the roles of men and women to emphasize how little power women have in shaping the needs of the relationship, no matter how justified it may be.

Taste of Cherry – This film was one of Roger Ebert’s most hated films, which even he admitted might have been his own personal feelings and not a reflection on the quality of the film. Taste of Cherry utilizes more of Kiarostami’s style than his others as he focuses on a man driving around Tehran looking for someone to carryout a macabre task while the confines of a car offer no escape from the depth of philosophy.

And now…the half:

Argo – An American film following the U.S. and Canadian mission to rescue American refuges in Iran in the 80s, this film wasn’t filmed in Iran, but its use of the setting constitutes inclusion on this list. It may not be the most accurate and trumped up the circumstances of the U.S. involvement, but since it won Best Picture, it deserves some recognition on this list.

And now, some superlatives for films of Iran:

Best: A Separation

My Favorite: Close-Up

Most Underrated: Gabbeh

Honorable Mentions: About Elly, The Cyclist, Persepolis, Through the Olive Trees


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