Neorealist Revival in Iranian Cinema. Neorealist elements in Abbas Kiarostami’s "Where Is My Friend’s House?"

Academic Paper, 2015

22 Pages, Grade: 4.0/4.0







Mis-en-scene Analysis



The movies from Iran have kindled renewed interests in film study circles for the past two to three decades. The movie output from this Middle Eastern nation has increased considerably in terms of number and creative appeal in the post-revolutionary period. It has prompted a constant pursuit by critics and researchers the world over ever since they had their debut in acclaimed film festivals. Noted for their philosophical undercurrents treasured in superficial simplicity, Iranian movies have set a trend of their own breaking away from the beaten track of mainstream popular films. Though strangulated by strict censorship regulations, Iranian movie realm has been successful in addressing the larger issues of life rather than merely catering to the entertainment demands of the masses.

Considering the aesthetic scope of Iranian movies, this dissertation seeks to reinforce the idea of neorealist revival in Iranian cinema which contributed significantly to their growth as a distinct genre. The post-revolutionary Iranian cinema has much in common with the classical Italian neorealist movies. It is very interesting to see how the neorealist influence has been successfully taken advantage of by Iranian filmmakers to devise a style of their own in film making.

The neorealist influence in Iranian cinema has already been hinted at by some researchers in their works. The key paper that helped me develop my ideas is Neorealism, Iranian Style authored by Stephen Weinberger in 2007 and published in the journal Iranian Studies. This paper establishes the link between Iranian and Italian neorealisms by analyzing the works of three leading Iranian directors, Abbas Kiarostami, Mohsen Makhmalbaf and Majid Majidi. The work that helped me delve into the film making techniques of Kiarostami and unearth the neorealist elements in him is Luke Andrew Buckle’s Contemporary Neorealist Principles in Abbas Kiarostami’s Filmmaking published in 2011. This paper provides an exhaustive study of how Kiarostami’s filmmaking methods are reflective of the style of post second world war Italian Neorealism. I could study the historical perspective and the implications of the Italian Neorealism through the work, Notes toward a Definition of Neorealism by Sergio J. Pacifici published in Yale French Studies journal in 1956. This article explores the historical background of Italian Neorealism and the technical and thematic features of the films that were later said to have heralded the movement. Important cues drawn from the above mentioned works left me with necessary insight to develop this project.

This project is divided into three chapters. Chapter One aims to form an understanding of the Iranian cinema with due emphasis on its historical evolution and its current status. The history of Iranian cinema cannot be understood in isolation without a look into its national history. This chapter traces the history of the cinema and the contexts which led to Neorealism being used as a cinematic strategy by Iranian filmmakers. How woman became a significant figure in Iranian cinema also finds mention here.

Chapter Two of the project tries to study the parallels between Iranian and Italian neorealisms. It can be seen that there are many a feature common to both the realisms. The historical contexts which led to the development of these cinematic strategies are found to be more or less the same. Moreover, the cinematic movement of Neorealism is analyzed in greater detail in this chapter.

Chapter Three seeks to trace the neorealist elements in Abbas Kiarostami’s Where Is My Friend’s House? This film is analyzed in terms of mis-en-scene and theme to unveil the neorealist features of the movie. Kiarostami is one of the most formidable figures in the Iranian cinemascape and this particular film proclaims his neorealist influence at its best. This project seeks to contribute to the existing discourse on Iranian movies and their varied perspectives.



Graduating itself from a mere geographical expression to a cult identity, Iranian cinema has won the admiration of movie buffs across the globe. It has been occupying a pride of place in the world cinemascape with its enchanting frames that narrate tales of the richness of human experience in even the most seemingly mundane events. Nevertheless, it can boast of a politics of its own with the audacious narratives on the social, cultural and religious issues confronted by the Iranian society. Post-revolutionary Iranian cinema has won critical acclaim from all over the globe and has numerous awards in its kitty from various film festivals. A national cinema was born despite the strong walls of censorship and strict rules regarding film making.

Abbas Kiarostami, renowned Iranian film maker, when asked about the status of Iranian cinema in the early 1990s said: “I think it is one of Iran’s major exports: in addition to pistachio nuts, carpets, oil, now, there is cinema.” (Rosen 40) The history of Iranian cinema is as turbulent as its national history. It has a history that is mired in religious and political interventions. Iranian cinema during its early days was at the service of the ruling elite and hence could not connect to the common man and his life. ‘‘Iranian movie history can be broadly divided into three periods; first period (1929-36), second period (1948-790 and third period (post 1979).” (Mehrabi 38) The first Iranian feature film, a comedy, Abi and Rabi was made in 1929. Owing to objections by religious people who widely criticized cinema as a devilish phenomenon, the early ventures in Iranian cinema could not attain commercial success. The first Iranian talkie, The Lor Girl (1932), was produced at the Imperial Film Company in Bombay, India, as there were no sound recording facilities in Iran during those times. As in most world cinemas, Iranian cinema too witnessed a revival with the end of World War II with films like Storm of Life (1948) hitting the screens. It was in 1960s that Iranian cinema had its first breakthrough with the advent of the Iranian avant-garde films such as Brick and Mirror (Ebrahim Golestan, 1965), The Cow (Dariush Mehrjui, 1969) and Qayasar (Massoud Kimiai, 1969).

The revolution of 1979 which brought about a shift in the political machinery of the nation from a monarchy to an Islamist regime had a significant impact on the cinema. Many theatres were burned down during the revolution and Islamist regime which came to power under Ayatollah Khomeini imposed strict regulations and censorships on movies which were till then replete with obscene content. There were no clear rules for film production in the first four or five years following the revolution and the establishment of an Islamic political system on February 11, 1979. It was with the establishment of Farabi Cinema Foundation and the endeavours of the office of the Under Secretary for Cinema Affairs at the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance in 1983 that film production started with a new set of rules and regulations. As Hamid Dabashi observes:

The first objection is the supposition that through any kind of creative visual representation the imaginative faculties will overcome one’s reason. The second objection is based on the assumption that sustained reflection on visual representations of real things prevents us from examining the realities they represent. The third objection stems from the historical opposition of the Prophet of Islam to idolatry. Finally, the fourth objection is based on the belief that any act of creation which stimulates the original creation by God is blasphemous.

(Buckle 26)

The new rules prevented the activities of the filmmakers who had produced vulgar and indecent movies before the revolution. Those film makers who had founded the social and avant-garde cinema were allowed to work under new regulations which among other things banned showing of any form of bodily contact between men and women. These filmmakers acted as a link between the Iranian cinema of the years before and those after the revolution.

With due encouragement and appreciation, The Runner (Amir Naderi, 1985), Where is My Friend’s House (Abbas Kiarostami, 1986) and Captain Khorshid (Nasser Taqvai, 1987) were among those films that began to tour film festivals. Later, maverick filmmakers like Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Majid Majidi, Abolfazl Jalili, Ebrahim Hatami-Kia, Rakhshan Bani-Etemad, Rassoul Mollaqolipour, Kianush Ayyari, and many others from the post revolution generation set a trend of their own by digressing from the beaten track of filmmaking. This group of filmmakers was acclaimed both by international film festivals and domestic audiences. Their works are usually screened in competitive and international sections of the Fajr Film Festival in order to showcase the quality of Iranian films. Film festivals in fact opened up the avenues for the growth and promotion of Iranian cinema as it had to encounter numerous hardships in its native land. The winning of Palme de’Or by A Taste of Cherry (Kiarostami, 1997) was a great confidence booster to Iranian film makers. Iranian cinema had a major growth during the tenure of Mohammed Khatami (1983-92) as Minister of Culture. He and his aides at the Ministry and Farabi Cinema Foundation guided the film industry in a way that provided extensive support for the aspiring film makers. Over the years, Iranian cinema moved forth establishing itself as a genre.

All Iranian films are subject to rules of state and self-censorship. Scripts, pre- production and final cuts must be approved by the Farabi Foundation and the Ministry of Culture. Filming must follow certain codes of decorum. Actresses must always appear in hejab. Their hair must always be covered and they must wear a loose outer layer of clothing even when depicting a woman alone in her room or going to bed. Men and women who are not real life close relatives must never touch each other even if playing close relatives.

“These requirements have had two general results. First is the disorientation viewers experience when accepted codes of cinematic naturalism collide with the requirement of Iranian cinematic modesty. Second is the growing trend of films about children, a leading cinematic genre in Iran.” (Moruzzi 52) By focusing on young protagonists, films can do away with the awkward scenes of interaction between adults. Government prohibition on filmed violence, physical contact between male and female actors and the restrictions on import of mainstream commercial foreign films have paradoxically led to the growth of an extremely innovative national film industry. Iranian cinema has developed its own genres as war films, children’s films, auteur films by the brilliant experimental directors mostly associated with the New Iranian Cinema such as Abbas Kiarostami, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Daruish Mehrujui, Bahren Beyzai and so on.

The post-revolutionary cinema has also been instrumental in giving space to a host of women directors who attempted realistic portrayals of the trials and tribulations of the Iranian female psyche. “A unique and unexpected achievement of this cinema has been the significant and signifying role of women both behind the camera and in front of the camera”. (Naficy 560) Iranian women filmmakers like Rakhshan Bani-Etemad, Tehminah Milani, Samira Makhmalbaf, Marziyeh Meshkini were successful enough to grab critical attention from all over the globe. Before the 1979 revolution, in many films, women were treated as worthless and negligible figures and seldom was reference made to their positive and humane qualities. In the newly revolutionized cinema, women gradually found their place and began to overcome their marginal roles. Hamid Naficy says that the evolution of the codes and the use of women behind the camera occurred in three overlapping phases. During the first phase, immediately after the revolution, the images of unveiled women were cut from existing and imported film. In the second phase (mid 1980s), women appeared on the screen as ghastly presences in the background or as domesticated subjects in the home. The third phase appeared gradually (since the late 1980s) and it was marked by a more dramatic presence of women both on the screen and behind the camera as directors. Thus films remain one of the main vehicles through which the complexities of Iranian women’s lives could be explored.


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Neorealist Revival in Iranian Cinema. Neorealist elements in Abbas Kiarostami’s "Where Is My Friend’s House?"
University of Calicut
BA English Language and Literature
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neorealist, revival, iranian, cinema, abbas, kiarostami’s, where, friend’s, house, Neorealism, Iran, film studies, visual culture, miscene analysis, kiarostami, history of Iranian cinema, Iranian revolution
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Mohammed Ismail (Author), 2015, Neorealist Revival in Iranian Cinema. Neorealist elements in Abbas Kiarostami’s "Where Is My Friend’s House?", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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