Dariush Mehrjui: A filmmaker who brings books to life

Dariush Mehrjui, the great Iranian filmmaker, is still as renowned today as he was in the past. His filmmaking career with its many ups and downs is profuse with unrivaled works of cinema –most significant among them being his literature adaptations. Mehrjui has a high record of making literature adaptation movies in the Iranian film industry. The list includes his 60s and 70s adaptations, “The Cow” and “The Mina Cycle, as well as his later adaptations, “Pari”, “Sara”, “Leila” and “Mum’s Guest” . During the four decades of his filmmaking career, Mehrjui has based the plot of most of his films on works of literature. He has thus taken a literary approach to filmmaking by using Persian as well as foreign stories as the basis of his plots. Atier obtaining his BA in Philosophy from UCLA and gaining some experience as the editor of Review Pars in Los Angeles, he began his cinematic career by directing the movie “Diamond 33” (“Almas 33”).
Atier this first movie, Mehrjui made the movie “The Cow” based on Gholam-Hossein Saedi’s novel, “The Mourners of Bayal”. “The Cow” was the first Iranian movie ever to have won an award from a reputable international film festival (Chicago film festival). Film critics and professionals in the film industry have also chosen this movie as the best movie in the history of Iranian cinema. Mehrjui’s next movie, “Mr. Naïve” (“Aghaye Hallou”), an adaptation based on a story by Ali Nasiriyan, was rewriƩen by Mehrjui himself, which, at the beginning, went under censorships and was even banned for a while. “The Postman” and “The Cycle”, which were both literature adaptations, were Mehrjui’s other pre-Revolution movies. “The Postman” was based on Georg Buchner’s play “Woyzeck” and “The Cycle” was Mehrjui’s second adaptation based on Saedi’s works. This time, Mehrjui used the story “The Dumpster” as a source of inspiration for his movie, “The Cycle” and thus managed to position himself as Iran’s major director of the Cinema of Author. Atier the Islamic Revolution, Mehrjui continued his work and made “The School We Went To” (“Hayat-e Poshti Madrese-ye Adl-e Afagh”). His interest in and mastery over world literature is expressed in the documentary movie he made based on the life and poems of the French poet, Arthur Rimbaud. But it was “Hamoon”, the movie which led to the emergence of a distinct school of filmmaking in Iran and which many film critics traced back to the stories wriƩen by J. D. Salinger, that fixed his position as Iran’s Author of Cinema.
Mehrjui’s movie “Pari” is a free adaptation based on Salinger’s famous story “Franny and Zooey”, which was widely appreciated by film critics as well as the spectators. In 1993, Mehrjui made yet another adaptation movie, “Sara”, which was based on the play “The Dollhouse” by Henrik Ibsen, the Danish playwright, and he thus invented a peculiarly Iranian seƫng for his movie to show the influential power of literature on cinema once again. “Sara” deals with the hidden layers of human relationships in an Iranian seƫng. This movie won the prize for the best film script the same year it was released. He then made “Leila” based on a story by Mahnaz Ansarian. Mehrjui then made “The Pear Tree” (“Derakht-e Golabi”), which is a nostalgic romantic movie and one of Iran’s most memorable films, based on a story by Goli Taraghghi. Mehrjui’s last literature adaptation movie is “Mum’s Guest”, which was based on a story by Houshang Moradi Kermani and has that same intense Iranian quality characteristic of all Mehrjui movies. This film was also widely appreciated by both critics and spectators. Mehrjui’s other movies include “Shirak”, Dariush Mehrjui: A filmmaker who brings books to life 42 Printed in IRAN “The Tenants”, “The Mix”, “Dear Cousin is Lost” “Bemani” and “Santoori”. The Pear Tree Goli Taraghghi’s ardent and impressive story allowed Mehrjui to make what turned out to be one of his most faithful adaptation movies. Mehrjui had become fascinated with the story’s narrative space and plot in such a way that he based his outstanding movie on it with only some minor changes. This film is perhaps one of the best and most faithful film adaptations not only in Mehrjui’s career but also in the national cinema of Iran. Mahmood Shayan (played by Homayoon Ershadi) is an intellectual writer who goes to their family garden to write his last book without any disturbances. But he is faced with a problem: he has a writer’s block and the gardener of the garden together with the headman of the village (played by the late Ne’matollah Gorji and Jafar Bozorgi) will not stop bothering him all because of a pear tree that has dried up.
Their insistence reminds him of the memories back when he was twelve years old and of M. (Played by Golshitieh Farahani) and of the old pear tree. Mahmood’s first love. To sum up, the movie is a brilliant work especially since there are moments in which the narrator, on the pretense of recalling old memories of the protagonist, takes a brief yet meaningful look at the lives and the political struggles of Iranian elites of the 40s and 50s. That pear tree in the middle of Damavand garden is none but Mahmood Shayan himself, or perhaps Mahmood Shayan is the pear tree that atier years of flourishing, writing and publishing –in other words, years of blooming, bearing and glowing— has now died out and is incapable of flourishing –writing. Mum’s Guest While Mehrjui has the highest ranking by making literature adaptations among Iranian filmmakers, Houshang Moradi Kermani is among the writers whose works have been chosen for movie adaptations numerous times. As a mater of fact, most of the movies that were based on Moradi Kermani’s stories and novels have had shining appearances in festivals around the world.
These include the movies “The Cruse” (“Khomreh”), “The Boot” (“Chekmeh”) and “The Tales of Majid” (“Ghesseh-ha-ye Majid”) to name a few. But Mehrjui’s adaptation of “Mum’s Guest” in 2004 opened a new chapter in the world of cinematic adaptations based on Moradi Kermani’s stories. Although this movie was not intended for a young audience, in depicting its poor innocent characters it was still a reflection of the peculiar infantine yet ironically dark world of Moradi Kermani’s stories. These two artists might differ in many details of their art; nevertheless, they share a common worldview that is concerned with showing the most complicated maters of human existence in the simplest way possible. Even in his most complicated movies, Mehrjui maintains a certain degree of simplicity in recounting his story. In “Mum’s Guest”, Moradi Kermani tells us about a world that no longer exists –a world that has undergone a total change along with its shiti towards modern architecture and social relations. Even though the previous world was filled with much greater poverty, yet there was a higher degree of empathy and cooperation between neighbors that does not exist anymore today. This is the core ideology of Mehrjui’s “Mum’s Guest”. Leila The quality that makes Mehrjui’s movies stand out from other literature adaptations is that Mehrjui manages to successfully bring the characters of his beloved books into life. The movie most emblematic of this quality is “Leila”. This movie is based on a story by Mahnaz Ansarian –a mediocre story that Mehrjui turns into a masterpiece. It is not surprising that this movie is still on the top movies list of many film critics. The Ansarian’s story is immortalized through Mehrjui’s powerful techniques and has become a masterpiece in the Family and Drama category of movies. It was even chosen as the best post-Revolution movie in this genre by the officials of the 20th Fajr Film Festival in Tehran. In this movie, Mehrjui pursues a heroine and depicts her internal conflicts and her daily struggles with life and portrays a very memorable picture of them. What is significant about this movie is that the protagonist’s struggles and conflicts are not peculiar to Iranians; rather, they are issues relevant across all nations.

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