Cinema Radio City in Tehran by Heydar Ghiaï-Chamlou . The façade exhibits the introduction of Googie design into Iran through its outlandish neon geometry. The entire of the project follows modernist principles through the exploration of balance between straight and curved forms. Unfortunately, the cinema suffered a fire and was shut down with its neon facade removed, remaining in abandoned central Tehran.
From the Caspian Sea region. A unique bronze short sword with double terminals that look like budding long-petaled flowers, a very rare style. This weapon does not bear marks of having been repeatedly sharpened for use so it was probably made specifically to accompany a warrior in death as grave goods.
The area around the Caspian Sea, particularly on its southeast coast, and into modern day Iran, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and Baluchistan (western Pakistan), was a cultural hotbed during this time period. The map of archaeological finds from there is studded with urban centers, large burial mounds, and technological and metallurgical innovation - especially in the production of amazing bronze artifacts, probably with influence from the innovative bronze (and later iron) artisans in Luristan (modern day northwestern Iran). People - both men and women - went to their graves with beautiful, well-made weapons like this one that were more than likely a sign of high status.
Tehran has been inhabited for more than 7,000 years, though the origin of its name is still uncertain. During the era of the Iron Age Median Empire, Tehran formed the northern suburb of Rhages ( 𐎼𐎥𐎠, ری), an ancient city in the northwest of the Iranian Plateau which today makes up part of Greater Tehran’s metropolitan area. With its population of more than 8.8 million, Tehran is Iran’s most populous city.
Tehran = تهران (tehrân) city = شهر (shahr) capital city = پایتخت (pâytakht) Tehran Province = استان تهران (ostân-e tehrân)
Anabasis, or: The Persian Expedition, or: the time a bunch of idiot Greek mercs got way too involved in Persian royal family drama
Xenophon was an aristocratic Greek from the city of Athens in the fifth century BC, a student of the philosopher Socrates, a contemporary of Plato, a historian, philosopher and major political thinker in his own right, and one time when he was an idiot twenty-something he managed to get himself involved in the dumbest piece of military adventurism in the Middle East of all time.
Later he wrote a book about it.
It’s called Anabasis, which is Greek for ‘Upgoing’, and it is my current favourite adventure story. It is full of big personalities, political drama, people getting stressed out about crossing rivers, and stupid battles. I really wanted to share it with you all, but I can’t make everyone read the whole thing, so instead I present Book 1 of the Anabasis, chapters 1-8, abridged:
Chapter One: Prince Cyrus has a bright idea
So in the fifth century BC the Persian Empire - with its heartland in modern Iran/Iraq, and its territory stretching as far as Egypt, Turkey, India, and the Black Sea - is the biggest deal around. It’s the heart of civilisation. The Persians have the best cavalry in the world, and also invented gardening. Meanwhile Ancient Greece is basically forty cats in a sack, where the cats are city-states and the sack is ‘which city-state has the biggest dick?’
The Iranian film The Salesman is one of the five nominees for this year’s foreign-language Academy award. It’s written and directed by Asghar Farhadi, who won the Oscar for his 2011 film, A Separation, and centers on a theater company presenting Death of a Salesman. Critic David Edelstein says:
“A woman is brutally assaulted in the early part of Asghar Farhadi’s gripping Iranian drama The Salesman. The woman, Rana, is washing up in the bathroom of her new apartment in an unfamiliar part of Tehran, just home from acting in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, where she plays Willy Loman’s wife. She hears the buzzer from downstairs and thinks it’s her husband, Emad, who plays Willy, so she unlocks the door and returns to what she was doing. Later, when Emad does get home, he sees blood everywhere. He finds Rana in the hospital, where the wounds on her face are being stitched. She won’t talk about what happened, not then, not a few days later. The nature of the assault, a description of the assailant, the motive—it’s a blank to be filled by Emad’s churning suspicions and fears.
That blank is central to many of Farhadi’s films. His Oscar-winning A Separation turns on a woman’s unseen fall in a staircase: Not knowing what happened makes us consider the destructive social forces that helped put that woman on that staircase at that time. In my favorite movie of Farhadi’s, About Elly, a young female teacher disappears while visiting colleagues at their beach house. As they learn more about their absent guest, the focus subtly shifts to the trauma of her life—and by implication the lives of many working single women in modern Iran. As much as whodunits, Farhadi makes whatdunits and whydunits.”
How the 1979 Iranian Revolution reflects today in American Society:
The cities of Iran were very Modernized and Westernized.
Women went to universities, wore skirts, and everyone danced to Rock
& Roll music, were watching Hollywood movies and becoming Artist and
Designers. Iran today even has the largest collection of Modern Pop Art
outside of North American and Europe.
But how did a country with women who had free hair, wore high heels, and a city that use to dance all night, turned “backwards”?
It was because of the Conservative Rights in the country. They felt
like that the globalization of the western world was perverting their
country. That the modern cities did not represent the common people, and
they went to replace their country with the Radical and Religious
Right, who was willing to reinstall national values back to the country.
There was no civil war, there was no financial crises, people’s
rebellion or military take over that caused the revolution from a
Pro-West Government, to a Religious Authoritarian. It was over an
election of the Islamic Republic Party over the Freedom Movement.
They would shut down all media presses and censored them, that if the
media was not on their side, they were the enemy. They crushed down
feminist’s protest and opposition marches, and ordered religious ideas
on women’s bodies and made wearing the Hijab mandatory. They expelled
anything that was deemed foreign in the country, on the belief that it
make Iran great again on Iranian traditional values. And they isolated
their country from the rest of the world, all on a charismatic leader of
immense popularity, Ruhollah Khomeini who became the leader of Iran.
“Behold, the day of the LORD cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate: and he shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it.”
“17 Behold, I will stir up the Medes against them, which shall not regard silver; and as for gold, they shall not delight in it.
18 Their bows also shall dash the young men to pieces; and they shall have no pity on the fruit of the womb; their eye shall not spare children.
19 And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldees’ excellency, shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah.”
Babylon (America). Medes (Modern day Iran)
“4 And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.
5 For her sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities.
6 Reward her even as she rewarded you, and double unto her double according to her works: in the cup which she hath filled fill to her double.”
Babylon (America) ^. Judgement is coming here, and the most high is stirring up the nations around Babylon and they will destroy each other. Remember, nation against nation is the beginning of sorrows.
“For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be earthquakes in divers places, and there shall be famines and troubles: these are the beginnings of sorrows.”
The kingdom is coming. Don’t look to the government or man in these times. Look to the most high, lean on him. Christ is the only one who can save us from our enemies.
Fawzia Fuad of Egypt (Arabic: الأميرة فوزية فؤاد, Persian: شاهدخت فوزیه فؤاد; 5 November 1921 – 2 July 2013) was an Egyptian princess who became Queen of Iran as the first wife of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
The Cubist Garden of Villa Noailles in Hyères, France by Gabriel Guévrékian . The architect was an ethic Armenian from Constantinople [now Istanbul] who was raised in Tehran and studied in Vienna. This combination of east and west had a profound impact on his architectural style. Here he clashed what he learned in Vienna and Paris, cubism and bauhaus, with the architecture he saw growing up, the paradisiacal concept of the Persian garden. The word paradise itself comes from the Old Persian term for a walled enclosure or garden.
The villa Noailles features as one of the very first modernist style buildings constructed in France. Designed in December 1923, the original villa was built for Charles and Marie-Laure de Noailles by the architect Rob Mallet-Stevens and exhibits the founding tenets of the rationalist movement: practicality, a purification of decorative features, roofs, terraces, light, hygiene… The extensions, which continued right up until 1933, along with the exceptional development of the surrounding property (courtyard and gardens), turned a modest holiday home into a true 1800m2, immobile ocean liner: fifteen master bedrooms all with en-suite bathrooms, a swimming pool, a squash court, a hairdressing salon, a resident gym instructor, etc.
Features such as the clocks, which are all controlled by a central system, the retracting bay-windows and the mirrored windows, all contribute to the modernity of the site. A heliotropic house, overlooking the bay of Hyères, the villa Noailles celebrated a new lifestyle which favoured body and nature. The interior decoration called upon an impressive list of prominent figures: Louis Barillet for the stain glass windows, Pierre Chareau, Eileen Gray, Djo-Bourgeois, and Francis Jourdain for the furniture, Gabriel Guévrékian for the cubist garden, and Mondrian, Henri Laurens, Jacques Lipchitz, Constantin Brancusi, and Alberto Giacometti for the art works.
Pre-Islamic Iran was Zoroastrian for well over 1,000 years
The basic tenants of Zoroastrianism are “good deeds, good thoughts, and good words”. Zoroastrianism was the religion of the three Persian empires of Achaemenid, Parthian, and Sasanian Empire, which ruled modern-day Iran from 550BCE to 651CE, at which point the newly born Islamic Caliphate attacked Iran. The Muslim conquests consisted of forced conversions, but there were also voluntary conversions, and in many cases people were persuaded to convert because of political benefits of becoming Muslim. Today, a small, but growing Zoroastrian community exists around the world, with the largest concentrations being in India, Iran, and the United States.
Just as the title says! I saw way more films this year than last year so obviously it was a lot harder picking favorites. I almost decided to increase the list to 25 but eventually opted against it. Also this list is going by 2015 USA release dates or whatever I happened to see at a festival in 2015. Before I start the countdown here are a few films I really loved that didn’t quite make the cut.
Honorable mentions: The Tribe; Phoenix; Tag; Magic Mike XXL; Nasty Baby; Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter; White God; Tangerine; Heaven Knows What; In Jackson Heights
But anyway, here is the list of my favorite films of 2015 with a few, simple words on each.
20. The Diary of a Teenage Girl (dir. Marielle Heller)
As John Waters said in his top of the year list, this is a film that deals with sex between teens and adults that manages not to be creepy or unintelligent. I always hate when I’m watching films about sex and the actual sex is sugar coated or portrayed in a prudish manner. Thankfully, it’s not only incredibly frank about its subject matter, it’s also incredibly heartfelt (in part from the fantastic lead performance of Bel Powley). I went into this expecting another typical American indie comedy and instead got something incredibly funny, sweet and actually kind of edgy.
When both my girlfriend and I were able to figure out the twist of this horror mystery film about halfway through its running time, neither of us expected to enjoy it nearly as much as we did… but by the time it ended we were floored. In a strange way, knowing the twist only added to the last incredibly disturbing, unpredictable and horrifying third of the film. And in many ways it made it only scarier, so much so that I wonder if it was intentional that we were able to figure it out? Regardless, there were gasps and screams in the theater and they definitely weren’t unwarranted. This film about two young boys who question their unrecognizable mother’s true identity gets pretty damn freaky.
18. Tokyo Tribe (dir. Sion Sono)
Sion Sono is one of our greatest living filmmakers. So when I say a Sono film isn’t among his best work, you can still count on it being a hundred times more interesting than most people’s entire body of work. In this case, Sono crafted an insane, sloppy, brilliant and totally hysterical rap battle musical. The rapping itself isn’t all that great but I could care less. This is a blast from start to finish! Shot in a floating, god-like perspective we move from scene to scene as the film only builds in insanity, vulgarity and implausibility. But perhaps the best aspect of Tokyo Tribe is when the true intentions of its villain are revealed. I won’t spoil it here, but I always love films with high stakes (in this case warring gang tribes) which arise from something totally insignificant, as it only makes it more ridiculous. Far from perfect, but one of the most fun film experiences I had this year.
17. The Mend (dir. John Magary)
Definitely among the more underrated films on the list, this dry, (extremely) dark comedy explores something that I am personally fascinated with and tend to make films about myself: failed men. The Mend centers on two brothers who initially appear like polar opposites but are eventually both uncovered as pathetic, selfish and deeply angry individuals. Neither of them are very likeable but there are aspects of them that are vey relatable (in a scary way). Although I did frequently laugh during this film, most of the humor was so cringe-worthy and uncomfortable I wasn’t able to make a peep. It’s also incredibly well crafted, well paced and consistently manages to be visually interesting.
16. Mustang (dir. Deniz Gamze Ergüven)
What an absolutely phenomenal debut feature! Despite some big flaws (all the girls kind of blend together at the beginning of the film) I was so moved by this film I forgave all its problems. Mustang is about a group of sisters in Turkey whose home starts turning into a sort of prison as they are forbidden from interacting with the outside world for fear that they might ruin themselves before marriage. It manages to be inspiring without being sappy, and political without being in-your-face. The emotions of the film totally snuck up on me, and sure enough before the credits started I was tearing up. This is a fantastic feminist work of art that of course reflects the current cultural climate of Turkey but is also very universal.
15. Anomalisa (dir. Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson)
Charlie Kaufman needs to be given every possible resource he needs so that he can make as many films as possible before he dies. The fact that he’s only directed 2 films is an absolute crime. Perhaps this isn’t as moving or as ambitious as Synecdoche, New York but it’s not trying to be. It’s a smaller, more intimate film that revolves around a motivational speaker who meets a woman in a hotel who seems to breath new life into him. Anomalisa is a stop motion film and it actually incorporates the puppetry of the main character into his breakdowns and fantasies. It’s a deeply sad film but one that abstains from being cynical. It also has the best sex scene of the year. Go figure.
14. Taxi (dir. Jafar Panahi)
Iranian director Jafar Panahi was banned from filmmaking in his home country in 2010. Since then he’s made 3 feature films. Taxi is not only his best film under the ban, it’s also one of Panahi’s best films in general. The entire movie takes place inside a taxi cab as Mr. Panahi himself drives, picks up passengers, meets up with old friends and watches as his niece makes a film herself for a class project. It wasn’t until after the film ended that I realized the entire thing was staged. Taxi serves both as a meta discussion on the kind of society that would lock up and censor one of its best filmmakers (the ending of this film is heartbreaking given Panahi’s situation) as well as an incredibly sweet and intimate portrait of the people of modern Iran, the kind you won’t see in any western media outlets. The fact that this film exists at all is stunning, but the fact that it’s as good and engaging as it is is even more stunning.
13. The World of Kanako (dir. Tetsuya Nakashima)
Without a doubt the most vile, repulsive, disturbing and transgressive film on this list, The World of Kanako is a mad whirlwind of violence and mayhem that doesn’t slow down once for the length of its two hour running time. We follow an ex-detective as he searches for his daughter and starts slowly falling down the rabbit hole of the pitch black world she inhabits. The editing is slick and quick as we are constantly jumping between 3 different timelines, trying to piece together just what happened to Kanako. What’s revealed is beyond perverse, as even our protagonist is shown to be as disgusting and amoral as any of the villains he’s chasing. Cinematically explosive (every trick in the book is pulled out in this film) and totally degenerate, I couldn’t help but get sucked into one of the most fascinating and exhausting films of the year.
12. Victoria (dir. Sebastian Schipper)
At 138 minutes, Victoria is the longest single shot narrative film ever made. One might be worried that this gimmick would be distracting to everything else in the movie, but it isn’t. The characters and their performances make the journey incredibly real and emotional (Laia Costa as Victoria was my favorite performance of 2015) . There were times where I even forgot that I was watching something done in one take. I don’t wanna give away too much about the plot because going in completely ignorant will probably lead to a much better viewing experience. I will say that this is the kind of naturalistic filmmaking I really admire. One where extraordinary events take place, but not a single moment feels untruthful.
11. The Revenant (dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu)
As much as I really enjoyed Birdman, I didn’t quite think it was on par with some of Iñárritu’s best previous work (Biutiful and Babel are two favs of mine). However, The Revenant is without question one of his strongest and most impactful films. Teaming up a second time with Emmanuel Lubezki (arguably the greatest cinematographer currently working), together they crafted an absolute visual masterwork. The entire film could have have been silent and the story would have been as clear as day. DeCaprio also delivers the best performance of his career, achieving an almost Mifune-level over-the-top-ness that is constantly intense but never becomes cheesy. Out of all the films on this list, this one begs to be seen on a big screen. It’s a true spectacle.
10. The Look of Silence (dir. Joshua Oppenheimer)
Oppenheimer’s follow-up to his masterful The Act of Killing is just as brilliant and perhaps even more powerful. Once again focusing on the Indonesian genocide of 1965, but instead from the point of view of a victim’s family. The brother of a murdered “communist” confronts all the men directly or indirectly responsible for his brother’s death. A beautiful but haunting film that’s extremely difficult to shake off once you’ve seen it.
9. The Forbidden Room (dir. Guy Maddin. co-dir. Evan Johnson)
A solid quarter of the audience I saw this with walked out of it. Maddin is a true cinematic madman, willing to try and do absolutely anything in his films. It would be kind of pointless to try to describe this movie because there are a million stories in it and about a billion things that happen in it. A lumberjack ends up in a submarine, bananas come alive and tell a story, a man becomes so obsessed with butts that he has parts of his brain removed, skeletons force a lover to don a poison suit, a mustache has a dream… etc. etc. etc. All shown through grainy, kaleidoscope-esque images. Equally hilarious, destructive and insane, this is probably one of the strangest films I’ve ever seen. It’s bizarre even by Maddin’s standards.
8. Mad Max: Fury Road (dir. George Miller)
I mean, what is left to say about this one? This film seems to be on absolutely everyone’s “best of” list this year (and if it’s not I’m assuming that person either hasn’t seen it or is insane). It’s a masterpiece of the action genre. I’m not going to say much else about this one because if you have yet to see it, stop reading and go watch it.
7. It Follows (dir. David Robert Mitchell)
This film has had me looking over my shoulder when I’m walking alone ever since I saw it. I’m one of those people who gets really scared by good horror. And man, this scared me like no other film I’ve seen recently. I’ve only just started watching more horror films (thanks to my girlfriend, who’s much more of a buff in the genre than I am) and this film definitely stands out as one of the best and most original American horror films in current memory. The concept of people -whom only you can see- following you no matter where you are and who are intent on killing you is terrifying enough, and thankfully this film is so well made that it truly is as scary as it sounds.
6. World of Tomorrow (dir. Don Hertzfeldt)
The only short film I even considered to be on this list. Hertzfeldt has created yet another hilarious, emotional, and supremely intelligent film. He manages to pack more ideas into a single scene than many films can muster in their entire running times. A little girl is greeted by a 3rd generation clone of herself and is brought to the future, where she is shown and taught many extremely significant things… all at an age too young to fully grasp the information she’s given. By the end of this 17 minute journey, I was weeping.
5. Wild Tales (dir. Damián Szifrón)
The opening scene of Wild Tales is the closest thing to Buñuel-style absurdity I’ve ever seen in a modern film. And the rest of the film is pretty great too! This dark comedic anthology film from Argentina really took me by surprise. It’s comprised of six unrelated stories that all deal with revenge taken to its most extreme, logical conclusion. I laughed so hard during this movie that the couple sitting in front of me in the theater moved seats. It’s extremely dark, at times absolutely absurd, beautifully shot and has a lot of fantastic social commentary that is very universal. One particular story about a man getting his car consistently towed is almost too relatable.
4. The Lobster (dir. Yorgos Lanthimos)
I’ve been a committed fan of Yorgos Lanthimos since Dogtooth, so when I heard the basic concept for The Lobster a year or two ago I’ve been eagerly anticipating it. Having finally seen it, I can safely say that it’s definitely Yorgos Lanthimos’s best film yet. The story, revolving around a hotel where single people are forcibly sent in order to find a new mate (and are turned into animals if they don’t), is one of the best films about how completely ridiculous relationships can be. The whole movie is a brilliant breakdown of what makes something normal and how arbitrary the rules in our society often are. It’s a hilarious, beautifully made film and has the best overall acting of 2015.
3. The Hateful Eight (dir. Quentin Tarantino)
What’s already turning out to be Tarantino’s most divisive film also turned out to be one of my favorites by him, if not my absolute favorite (a 2nd viewing will tell). Yes, the 70mm roadshow version made the screening really special (complete with an intermission and overture) but aside all hype surrounding the format, this is one of the few times I’ve felt like Tarantino was commenting on something other than filmmaking (or past films) itself. The Hateful Eight deals with issues of misogyny, racism, the death of the American dream and how all of those things fit into the myth of the American west and how that relates to our current culture. Also, the fact that it’s as engaging as it is for a 3 hour movie that takes place mostly in one location and only has despicable characters is a miracle. I personally think this is Tarantino’s smartest, most subversive and most mature film yet.
Mommy (dir. Xavier Dolan)
Xavier Dolan knows how to craft classy melodramas. The emotions the characters go through in Mommy are massive and almost become over the top. But instead they are very real and very felt in the audience when watching it… at least for me they were! I cried and cried during this movie. It’s the most emotional experience I had during any film from 2015. However it’s not just beautiful and heartbreaking, it’s also a marvel of filmmaking, using a totally unique 1:1 aspect ratio (one that’s not reflected in the still I chose), featuring incredibly sincere uses of pop songs, and having some of the best cinematography of the year.
A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (dir. Roy Andersson)
2015 seemed to be a great year for absurdist comedies! Roy Andersson is one of our best living filmmakers and every film he makes is an absolute treasure. Pigeon is no exception. Meticulously crafted for years on end, Andersson can spend up to 5 weeks just creating a single shot (everything in Pigeon is shot on a soundstage as well, so the shots can look exactly as Andersson likes them to look). Andersson is also a champion against outdated concepts of traditional story structure, with his last 3 films focusing more on moments and situations rather than arcs or characters (although Pigeon is the most character driven of the trilogy, but not by much). This film is also hysterically funny, filled with macabre, absurd and surreal moments. While the other two films in his trilogy may have asked “Where are we now” this one asks “What do we do now?” The answer (if he even has one) isn’t always pretty, but it’s almost always funny.
1. Entertainment (dir. Rick Alverson)
Entertainment takes Gregg Turkington’s infamous “Neil Hamburger” character (an aggressive, intentionally terrible meta stand up comedian he’s played since the 90s) and poses the question “What if he were a real person?” The result is one of the strangest, most horrifying and most cinematic films of the year. This film entered a very dark part of my consciousness and stayed there. We follow “the comedian” as he travels from shitty gig to shitty gig playing to audiences that couldn’t care less (or sometimes are even violent). He occasionally makes phone calls to a daughter we’re not even sure is real, he visits relatives he has nothing in common with and he takes awful tours of the desert to kill time between shows. It unfolds its themes and story (if you even wanna call it a story) visually, utilizing gorgeous widescreen cinematography that takes advantage of its Mojave desert landscapes. Entertainment is an uncompromising character study of what it means to be “entertainers”, the mask they use versus their inward emotions and the hollowness that can accompany artists (especially unsuccessful ones). The film starts slowly moving into the totally surreal, and by the end we don’t even know what’s reality and what’s not. This is the most unsettling film I’ve seen all year. It truly got under my skin and as painful as it can be, it’s a trip worth taking. Even if the destination of said trip is the center of hell.