iranian new wave

est. late 1960s – 2010s

In the latter half of the 20th century, a cinematic renaissance took shape in Iran that would leave a lasting mark on world cinema. The Iranian New Wave, also known as the Iranian New Cinema, emerged as a transformative cultural force, challenging conventions, offering a fresh perspective on storytelling, and redefining the relationship between cinema and society.

Origins of the Iranian New Wave

Understanding the Iranian New Wave requires acknowledging the political and cultural backdrop against which it unfolded. The 1960s and 1970s saw Iran in the midst of significant social and political shifts. The Shah’s (Mohammad Reza Shah, the last king of Iran) modernization and westernization efforts brought about rapid urbanization, relative prosperity and increased access to education, created a burgeoning middle class with newfound intellectual and artistic aspirations. This era of profound change was also marked by growing dissatisfaction, which eventually culminated in the Iranian Revolution in 1979.

 

The Iranian Revolution was a watershed moment in the country’s history, representing a seismic shift in political, social and cultural paradigms. It brought about the toppling of the monarchy, and the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran, governed by Islamic theocracy, radically altering the nation’s trajectory and eventual backsliding.

 

In this tumultuous environment, Iranian filmmakers embarked on a quest to rediscover their cultural identity. The Iranian New Wave became a vehicle for this resurgence, enabling artists to connect with their roots, reflect on their society, and share their stories with the world. Filmmakers delved into the rich tapestry of Iranian history, traditions and everyday life, inviting audiences to experience the genuine spirit of the nation.

The Cow (1969) by Dariush Mehrjui
The Cow (1969) by Dariush Mehrjui

Characteristics, Prominent Filmmakers and films

The Iranian New Wave was marked by its innovative storytelling techniques. Filmmakers often employed minimalist narratives, long takes, and a focus on dialogue to convey intricate emotions and societal dilemmas. These methods allowed for a deeper exploration of characters and themes, creating a unique and introspective cinematic experience. Filmmakers sought to portray everyday life in Iran with honesty and authenticity, often using non-professional actors to capture the nuances of daily existence, addressing social and political issues, including gender inequality, censorship, and the impact of authoritarian Islamic regime.

 

The Iranian New Wave witnessed the emergence of visionary directors, screenwriters, and actors who left an indelible mark on Iranian cinema. Among them, Abbas Kiarostami, a giant of the movement, crafted films like “Close-Up” (1990) that delved into existential themes, human connections, and the intriguing interplay between fiction and reality. Similarly, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, renowned for “A Moment of Innocence” (1996), blended poetic storytelling with the commitment to social commentary.

A Moment of Innocence (1996) by Mohsen Makhmalbaf
A Moment of Innocence (1996) by Mohsen Makhmalbaf

One remarkable aspect of the Iranian New Wave was the prominence of female directors and strong female characters. Filmmakers like Tahmineh Milani and Samira Makhmalbaf depicted the struggles, aspirations and resilience of Iranian women. Their work shed light on issues such as gender inequality, education, and the quest for self-determination in a society undergoing profound transformation and regression of women rights.

 

The movement gained international acclaim, with Iranian films earning prestigious awards at major film festivals. However, it also faced significant challenges, including censorship and limited resources. Directors like Jafar Panahi, who faced censorship blockade, found creative ways to navigate these obstacles, sometimes making films in secret or under pseudonyms.

Close-Up (1990) by Abbas Kiarostami
Close-Up (1990) by Abbas Kiarostami
Close-Up (1990) by Abbas Kiarostami
Close-Up (1990) by Abbas Kiarostami

Legacy and Influence of the Iranian New Wave

The movements emphasis on storytelling driven by human experiences, its commitment to authenticity, and its courage in addressing complex social issues serve as an enduring source of inspiration for filmmakers and cinephiles alike.

 

The Iranian New Wave represents, not only a remarkable chapter in Iranian cinema, but also a beacon of cinematic innovation and cultural expression. It defied political constraints, celebrated the resilience of Iranian identity, and left an indelible mark on the global cinematic landscape.

A Separation (2011) by Asghar Farhadi
A Separation (2011) by Asghar Farhadi

Please refer to the Listed Films for the recommended works associated with the film movement.