Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s The Nights of Zayandeh-Road, which was mauled and banned by his country’s autocratic regime in 1990, has been resurrected and will open the Classics section at the 73rd Venice Film Festival, set to roll on August 31.
The work was termed by the Iranian clergy as a “betrayal of the spirit of revolution”. It was initially cut by 37 minutes, but was subsequently banned when public attraction for it seemed overwhelming.
But a stroke of luck early this year helped. The original negative was stolen from the archives in Iran, and Makhmalbaf himself restored it. However, only 63 minutes of the original 100 are available. The rest is perhaps lost forever.
Happy at finding his lost baby, so to say, the auteur -- whose The President was screened at Venice 2014 and whose Sokout won awards at the festival in 1998 -- said in press note: “I was surprised to notice that in spite of all the mutilations (nearly one third of the movie), the story and the main structure of the film still remained rather unharmed... The movie looked like a living thing with no limbs, but it was still breathing, and its story and meaning were not lost. I decided to work on what I had recovered from the remaining negative and the sound in London.”
Though he could send The Nights of Zayandeh-Road well past the Venice submission deadline, the festival director. Alberto Barbera, had no hesitation in taking it, describing the work as “touching”.
Makhmalbaf -- like several Iranian artists, including a great talent like Golshifteh Farahani (to be soon seen along with Irrfan Khan in Anup Singh’s Rajasthani fable, The Song of Scorpions) -- left Iran, and he has since 2005 made Paris his home. Directors like Jafar Panahi (whose Taxi won the Golden Bear at Berlin in 2015) -- who decided not to leave Iran -- are languishing in a way. Panahi has been under house arrest of sorts and stopped from making cinema, though he has surreptitiously made three movies and had them sent to foreign festivals.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran will cover the Venice Film Festival, running from August 31 to September 10)