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UCL Mellon Programme: Interdisciplinary Seminar 2008-2009

Seminar: 11 February 2009 (Chair: Dr Saeed Talajooy, more ... )

Logo and link: Iran heritage Foundation Iranian Cinema: Gender, Nation and Narration
(with the generous support of the Iran Heritage foundation, more ...)

A screening and discussion of:

The May Lady (English sub-titles)
(Dir. Rakhshan Bani Etemad, 1998)


I resolved, ‘let me be iron-hearted; for a while.
Let me not give in to the heart-catching niceties of the nice.’
Oh Sa'di! The time of good name passed fast
‘It is time for love and loving; well for a while!’

Sa’di (1389 – 1472)

گفتم آهن دلی کنم چندی ندهم دل به هیچ دلبندی

سعدیا دور نیک نامی رفت نوبت عاشقیست یک چندی

Love has always been the most important theme of Persian poetry and many of the issues that were cultural taboos could be easily cloaked in metaphors and similes that created an ambiguous mixture of divine and earthly love. In cinema and theatre, however, the materiality of the bodies performing on the stage or before the camera problematized the expression or representations of love and intimacy. Before the 1979 revolution, the directors and actors depicting these aspects of human life had to risk violating old age cultural taboos and being labeled as government agents pushing the country towards the mire of unbridled westernization. After the revolution the standards of Islamic modesty and state control made it completely impossible even to depict women without hejab and in close-ups, let alone portraying them within their intimate relationships. The urge for approaching theses issues, however, led to the gradual development of a new cinematic grammar from 1988 onwards with Mohsen Makhmalbaf and Rakhshan Bani Etemad in the lead for inventing a number of creative strategies to portray love on the Iranian screen. Bani-Etemad’s The May Lady was one of the most successful films in this genre, exploiting and subverting the stereotypical conflict between motherhood and love by depicting an intense love affair through telephone conversations and letter writing and metacinematic ‘documentary-feature’ devices that remind us of Kiarostami’s cinema.

Suggested readings

Mir-Hosseini, Ziba (2007), 'Negotiating the Forbidden: On Women and Sexual Love in Iranian Cinema'in Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Volume 27, Number 3: 673-9.

Whitaker, Sheila (1999), 'Rakhshan Bani-Etemad' in Rose Issa and Sheila Whitaker (eds), Life and Art: The New Iranian Cinema. London: National Film Theatre. 66-74

This page last modified 26 September, 2012 by UCL Mellon Admin

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