The portrayal of women in Iranian cinema is limited, Amir Ganjavie, a communication and culture Ph.D. student at York University in Toronto, said at a talk Monday night on love, intimacy and eroticism in the genre.
At its first lecture series of the semester, the Department of Near Eastern Studies hosted Ganjavie, a cultural critic and Iranian film connoisseur who has written for publications such as BBC Persian and Senses of Cinema and Cameron Cross, Iranian Studies Prof. at the University of Michigan to discuss Ganjavie’s work on the utopic visions of national cinema and how intimacy is portrayed in Iranian films.
Ganjavie began his lecture with a brief history of how women came to be depicted in Iranian films noting this the Pahlavi Dynasty, which ruled Iran until 1979, encouraged filmmakers to make women objects of affection. However, after the Islamic Revolution of 1979, a whole new range of restrictions were levied on the Iranian film industry by the government, with women reduced to more inferior roles and limited in the interactions they could have with men on screen.
“The new authorities showed hostility to women’s participation in cinema, which is seen in the guidelines that they wrote codifying the representation of women in the films,” Ganjavie said.
The post-1979 Iranian film industry also adjusted to the guidelines by changing how intimacy and a woman’s role in society were — in a way that was often discreet and based upon traditional Iranian culture.
“Poetry is used to depict eroticism and there are many similar approaches used by Iranian directors,” Ganjavie said. “Iranian cinema is very indebted to and was shaped by poetry.”
To illustrate his point, Ganjavie showed a clip from the 1999 film “The Wind Will Carry Us” in which a man uses poetry to show his affection for a woman.
Given the restrictions on physical contact, symbolism has become a central part of how Iranian cinema in general conveys moments of intimacy, according to Ganjavie.
For Art & Design alum Parisa Ghaderi, an Ann Arbor resident, the lecture provided insight into how symbols can be a powerful tool in describing love between two people.
“I think it was interesting for me to kind of decode the imagery he was talking about,” Ghaderi said. “I remember I was thinking about these concepts before, but he helped decode all of this imagery and now I will try to see what the approach is of a director is to show love scenes.”
Ganjavie said understanding how Iranian cinema tackles issues of intimacy can provide a lens to better understand how notions of love are perpetrated in American and European films. Hollywood, he said, has an outsized ability to craft the ways in which people interpret these acts of intimacy taking place.
“Contrary to the common belief that kissing is a universal desire, a majority of cultures do not accept it as a common way of expressing emotion,” Ganjavie said.
Cross said he found this point, and Ganjavie’s lecture as a whole, to be a useful thesis on how cinema is a powerful tool beyond being a medium of entertainment.
“Cinema is a very useful way to talk about culture and art and thoughts in general, regardless of whether it is Iranian culture or another area of the world,” he said.