Sunday, September 29, 2013

Cinephilia Translated, Part 1



Browsing through the pages of Iranian Film Monthly, a publication dedicated to half serious, Cahiers-ish, text and half industry-oriented (Iranian version of Hollywood Reporter, if you like) content, I arrived at a dossier, focusing on the films of the Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan. Then I figured that at least 13 odd articles (from short reviews to long interviews), from 13 different international writers and film critics have been translated into Farsi/Persian, of course, unauthorized. However, I must add, this has been an inseparable part of the film culture in Iran for the last 50 years.

Arguably, Iran is one of the few places on earth that you can buy the latest issue of a film magazine and in it read a broad range of writers, whether living or deceased, from four corners of the world. Juxtaposition of Andre Sarris, Claude Chabrol (the critic) and Laura Mulvey could be the most intriguing, and it's most likey to see it in an Iranian film journal. The aforementioned Nuri Bilge Ceylan dossier had put together articles by Geoff Andrew, Peter Bradshaw, Manohla Dargis, Wally Hammond, J. Hoberman, Ali Jaafar, Nick James, Liam Lacey, Michael Phillips, A.O. Scott, Jason Wood, Robin Wood and Deborah Young, seemingly, the Anglo-American tendencies surpassing those of Francophile's which was more popular in the pre-revolutionary country. 

In any case, an unfamiliar reader would wonder why journals with a good number of house critics should look to the west? Wouldn't they be able to show a better understanding of the neighboring country of Turkey than, let's say, a New York critic who has never been to the Middle East? The answer is both yes and no, and I would try to build an argument around each. But before that, I'd like to ask myself why it happens in Iran? Why people are so engaged with what others think?

The answer, or at least the one I can provide, lies in the thirst for pluralism, in opposition to the monotony of the  forced, state-approved ideas in every aspect of life, film included. This reading -- taking the translation of film literature as a sign of longing for cultural diversity -- would inevitably turn the matter into an act of resisting against the banality that a totalitarian regime can bring to art. In the dossier of the Turkish director, next to Robin Wood's analysis, one can read a long study by an Iranian female critic, as well as a member of Iranian diaspora.

Still, this interest is by no means limited to trade journals. The daily newspapers share almost the same enthusiasm for international film literature. Two-time banned Etemaad, a newspaper of the semi-opposition in Iran from January 5, 2008 reads these names on its film page: Peter Travers, Roger Ebert, J. Hoberman, Todd McCarthy, Andre Rivas and Bruce Westbrook. 

Since the films discussed in these translated pieces can't see the light of the screen in Iran, a good editor would use the opportunity to stay true to the more enlightening side of film literature rather than tipping-and-recommending type which deals with films as commodities.

I can detect two major elements involved in the story of translating film criticism in Iran:


  • Giving a wider perspective to readers and establishing dialogue with the west, even if it hasn't been the aim of the original authors.
  • Challenging the codes and red lines of the regime by translating the content in which those subjects impossible to discuss by Iranians are discussed, merely because they've been translated. ("That's what they [westerners] think and not us," one would prepare as an answer, if censorship wants to interfere.)

That's how a diverse range of voices are brought to self-build cultural tribunes.

To be continued.
part 2

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