The film is also notable for the critical eye it casts on gender roles and the place of women. Naii is resilient, kind, and the competent head of the household in her husband’s absence.2 Whereas previous films of the 1980s had elided or downplayed women’s roles, Beizai places Naii at the centre of the film.3 Even with the restrictions on showing women without their veils, Beizai captures an active Naii who runs about the field and is shot in close-up numerous times in the film. While her husband’s authority looms over 82 Bashu, gharibeye koochak/Bashu: The Little Stranger (1989) decisions even in his absence, she continues to shelter Bashu despite her husband’s reprimanding letter and argues with him until the very end, when he returns home.
That the film manages to raise so many pointed issues in a time of war gives some hints as to why the authorities censored the film and delayed its release. In Beizai’s own words, ‘At first, the censors saw no problem; then, they kept looking at the movie, and found many problems’. 4 Government censors must have eventually discerned that what at first sight may seem a simple and sentimental story is in fact a critical examination of gender and identity on the interlinked levels of nation and family.
While a significant film for all of the reasons noted above, the film nonetheless has some distracting flaws in terms of production values, pace, editing and the overall flow of the story. Shortcomings in this regard may be attributable to the lack of resources during wartime filming and the censorship to which the film was subject. Some of Beizai’s directorial decisions, on the other hand, such as a tendency to emphasise the already dramatic, may be explained by his background as a playwright and theatre director. Soosan Taslimi’s performance style and expressive face allow the audience to discern her conflicting and evolving emotions in relation to Bashu without her speaking. Yet in several scenes, Beizai overuses Taslimi’s talents in this regard. In one of the most well known images affiliated with the film, Naii rises into the frame when her children first alert her to Bashu’s presence, and the focus remains on her for two seconds. The image is striking: in close-up, all but her eyes are covered, she is – for no apparent reason – pulling the part of her white scarf over her mouth in one direction and the segment covering her hair in the other. Later in the film, when Bashu runs away from the farmer’s market and she cannot find him, Beizai shows her in a crane shot as she stands alone in the middle of the abandoned market. These dramatic moments in Beizai’s cinematic direction are theatrical in their impact, piercing the otherwise realist feel of much of the film. The same is the case for his use of symbolic figures such as the ghosts of Bashu’s family. Such elements give Beizai’s film a distinct look and feel, distinguishing him from Iranian filmmakers who have received international attention in the late 1980s and 1990s and whose work has been described as bearing marks of neorealism or poetic realism.
Overall, Bashu remains a seminal work in the history of post-Revolutionary Iranian cinema both because of the political context out of which it emerged and the critical issues it subtly raised in telling the story of a war orphan and his adopted family.
1. While clearly a film that addresses the war, the film is not included in the body of sanctioned war films recognised as part of the cinema of the ‘Sacred Defense’, as the eight year war with Iraq is officially dubbed. In her account of this official cinema, Varzi has noted that Beizai was among a group of filmmakers who received training as part of a government-led effort to promote war films. For more information, see Roxanne Varzi, ‘A Ghost in the Machine: the Cinema of the Iranian Sacred Defense’, in Richard Tapper (ed.), The New Iranian Cinema: Politics, Representation and Identity, London, I.B. Tauris, 2002, pp. 154–66.
2. For an account of the interlinked connections among language, gender, and patriarchal authority in the film, see Nasri Rahimieh, ‘Marking Gender and Difference in the Myth of a Nation: Bashu, a Post-Revolutionary Iranian Film’, Thamyris, Vol. 3, No. 2, 1996, pp. 261–77.
3. In his assessment of Iran’s post-revolution film, Hamid Naficy cites Beizai as among the exceptional filmmakers who paid serious attention to women and gender roles in the 1980s. For more details, see Hamid Naficy, ‘Islamizing Film Culture in Iran: A Post-Khatami Update’, in Richard Tapper (ed.), The New Iranian Cinema: pp. 26–65.
4. Bahman Beizai interview with the International Herald Tribune, 16 February 2001, as cited in Hamid Reza Sadr, Iranian Cinema: a Political History, London, I.B. Tauris, 2006, p. 208.
Cast and Crew:
[Country: Iran. Production Company: Centre for Intellectual Development of Children and Adolescents. Director: Bahram Beizai. Producer: Alireza Zarin. Screenwriter: Bahram Beizai. Cinematographer: Firooz Malekzadeh. Sound Recordists: Jahangir Mirshekari, Asghar Shahroudi, Behrooz Moavenian. Sound Mixing: Hassan Zahedi. Editor: Bahram Beizai. Cast: Soosan Taslimi (Naii), Parviz Pourhosseini (Ghesmat Shanbehsareei, Naii’s husband), Adnan Afravian (Bashu), Akbar Doodkar (Marhemat), Farokhlagha Houshman (Sister-in-law), Zabihollah Salmani (Loghman), Mohtaram Khoshroo (Neighbour), Azam Rahbar (Golbesar), Mohammad Farkhah (Ooshin).]
Negar Mottahedeh, Displaced Allegories: Post-Revolutionary Iranian Cinema, Durham, NC, Duke University Press, 2008.
Hamid Naficy, A Social History of Iranian Cinema: The Globalizing Era, 1984–2010, Durham, NC, Duke University Press, 2012.
Richard Tapper (ed.), The New Iranian Cinema: Politics, Representation and Identity, London, I.B. Tauris, 2002.
The Routledge Encyclopedia of Films, Edited by Sarah Barrow, Sabine Haenni and John White, first published in 2015.