By Caroline Boschetto, news correspondent
A former drug dealer, a jealous husband, a mother of an imprisoned student and a drug-addicted man; these are the characters of the film “Tales.” In Mohsen Makhamalbaf’s “The President,” a brutal dictator faces his own regime’s injustices when his country is taken over by revolutionists.
The Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) is hosting its 22nd Boston Festival of Films from Iran continuing until Jan. 31. Produced by Iranian directors and released in 2014 or 2015, nine films represent the current state of Iranian society with its social and political issues. The series includes diverse genres, ranging from the drama about a young couple involved in a tragic event, “Melbourne,” to the artistic documentary “Monir” that focuses on the life and work of Iranian artist Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian. The festival shows films in Persian, English and Georgian, with English subtitles for the non-English films.
“Like many other developing societies, Iran has a rather large class divide, and this was a good representation of the most unfortunate,” Reza Kalhor, an Iranian-born immigrant to Boston, said.
Rakhshan Bani-E’temad, the director of “Tales”, focuses his film on the hardships affecting Iran’s women, including domestic abuse, addiction and suicide.
“I’ve seen a few Iranian films and I think they’re a good representation for Americans and an interesting interpretation of the culture,” Nancy Vanzant, a Brookline resident, said. “We have little knowledge of contemporary Iran, and what we do have is politically-tainted.”
“Tales” also delves into Iranian unemployment, bureaucratic corruption and restricted speech.
“Some of these films are harder to see for my family in Iran because of censorship,” Kalhor said.
Three of the series’ films – Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s “The President”, Jafar Panahi’s “Taxi” and Ali Ahmadzadeh’s “Atomic Heart” – have been banned in Iran. Actress Fatemeh Motamed-Aria, featured in both “Avalanche” and “Tales” was banned from acting for several years because of her public activism for women’s rights and political reform.
“Censorship has a huge impact on films that are made in Iran,” Niloofar Fotouhi, executive director of festival sponsor ILEX Foundation, said. “A filmmaker has to submit a proposal to the ministry of culture in Iran… and the film later has to be approved to be screened. It’s an uphill battle for the filmmakers, which is why we’re so happy that we get to show their films.”
Marina Kasvaglis, a Greek immigrant to Boston, has attended the festival multiple times over the past 10 years.
“I always come to the Turkish and Greek film festivals, but I think that the Iranian festival stands out,” Kasvaglis said. “I’m amazed because so much of Iran is conservative, religious, and has negative stereotypes… I was astounded at how progressive some of these films are.”
According to Kasvaglis, watching Iranian films offers non-Iranian viewers the chance to make deeper cultural links.
“I met some Iranians and told them I’d seen some movies from their country, and it gave me the opportunity to form a different kind of connection and conversation,” Kasvaglis said.
Still sitting in his lime-green theater seat, Iranian immigrant Sina Bonyadi described his perspective on “The President.” The film, by Mohsen Makhmalbaf, a man who attempted to assassinate an Iranian soldier at age 17, is a fictional account of a cruel dictator and a violent revolution.
“I really liked it because it is the story of my country,” Bonyadi said.
The Boston Festival of Films from Iran and the MFA’s other cultural exhibitions aim to promote understanding and appreciation of cultures beyond each viewer’s personal heritage.
“[America] is not like other countries where [citizens] just relate to a certain race or denomination, so it is important for people to be exposed to these kinds of movies,” Amir Mesgar, who immigrated to America 15 years ago with his wife, said. “It demonstrates the reality in the [Iranian] community, different from what we see in the news. It is very important that we come and see these films.”
Photo by Robert Smith