Bahman Kiarostami’s documentary films have focused on the political power of faith in contemporary Iranian culture, eloquently exploring the complex layers of religious significance in an Iranian society shaped by controversy.
In essence, the film Statues of Tehran interrogates the function of monuments in today’s Tehran, an ideology-ridden postmodern megalopolis, afflicted with forgetfulness. It tracks the fate of two important public sculptures: the first, a pioneering work commissioned by the royal family in the 1970s of Bahman Mohassess, the foremost modern Iranian sculptor of his time; the second, a tribute by Iraj Esskandari to the Islamic Revolution that stands in Enghelab Circus (Revolution Roundabout). In the wake of the revolution, the first was destined to neglect and was eventually put away in storage, while the second became a landmark in the city’s myriad public projects celebrating the revolution and the Iran-Iraq War. But not for long. It would seem that plans have been set in motion to remove the second monument to build a subway station, much to the jubilation of artists and officials, who are even intending to restore the Bahman Mohassess work and re-erect it in its original place.
Every year during the holy month of Muharram, ordinary merchants, truck drivers, and carpet salesmen don costumes to reenact the death of Imam Hossein, the grandson of the prophet. The film Re-enactment takes a fresh look at this theater, or reenactment. Stripping away the stage and props, it brings actors and musicians from all over the country to Tehran, to perform against a white screen. This process is at once discomforting and reassuring: the removal of what is essentially a theatrical ritual from its traditional setting unnerves the actors, while at the same time they bask in the limelight of a film. Scenes from the recording studio are mixed with scenes from the daily lives of the performers. Through the lens of this unique theatre the film examines Iranian society, communal mourning, and the complex layering of religious representation.