Over the past decade Iranian films have received enormous international attention, garnering both critical praise and popular success. Combining his extensive ethnographic experience in Iran and his broad command of critical theory, Michael M. J. Fischer argues that the widespread appeal of Iranian cinema is based in a poetics that speaks not only to Iran’s domestic cultural politics but also to the more general ethical dilemmas of a world simultaneously torn apart and pushed together. Approaching film as a tool for anthropological analysis, he illuminates how Iranian filmmakers have incorporated and remade the rich traditions of oral, literary, and visual media in Persian culture.
Fischer reveals how the distinctive expressive idiom emerging in contemporary Iranian film reworks Persian imagery that has itself been in dialogue with other cultures since the time of Zoroaster and ancient Greece. He examines a range of narrative influences on this expressive idiom and imagery, including Zoroastrian ritual as it is practiced in Iran, North America, and India; the mythic stories, moral lessons, and historical figures written about in Iran’s national epic, the Shahnameh; the dreamlike allegorical world of Persian surrealism exemplified in Sadeq Hedayat’s 1939 novella The Blind Owl; and the politically charged films of the 1960s and 1970s. Fischer contends that by combining Persian traditions with cosmopolitan influences, contemporary Iranian filmmakers—many of whom studied in Europe and America—provide audiences around the world with new modes of accessing ethical and political experiences.