Retribution and Magical Realism Headline Saturday Night at the Iranian Film Festival

Maryam Palizban in Reza Dormishian's "lex talionis" flick Lantouri.EXPAND
Maryam Palizban in Reza Dormishian's "lex talionis" flick Lantouri.
Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

For Marian Luntz, film and video curator at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, host of the 24th Annual Houston Iranian Film Festival, there is one question she can always count on.

“Inevitably, people ask me, ‘I can’t see all of the films; which should I see?’”

Though Luntz has been working on the program since a trip to Cannes in May, she doesn’t hesitate to single out Saturday night’s double feature of Lantouri and A Dragon Arrives! as well worth the trip to Brown Auditorium Theater.

Reza Dormishian’s Lantouri, about a human rights activist, Maryam, who embraces Iran’s “eye for an eye” law after suffering a brutal acid attack, addresses both revenge and advocacy for Iranian women’s rights through the lens of a relationship that quickly goes south. Luntz says the docudrama — told from Rashomon-like perspectives — and Maryam’s ultimate decision will likely leave audiences conflicted.

And A Dragon Arrives! (Ejdeha Vared Mishavad!) will likely leave them confused — one hopes in a good way.

The film, which Variety calls “one very sexy pretzel” of noir, mockumentary and fantasy, ties together a dead political prisoner, a possibly haunted cemetery and director Mani Haghighi’s own grandfather, Iranian filmmaker Ebrahim Golestan, in an elaborately layered mystery peppered with Iranian pop culture references.

“There is an element of magical realism, Iranian-style,” says Luntz. “It’s very edgy, and it’s the kind of film you finish watching and you think, ‘I need to see that again to try to put it together.’”

Leila Hatami, star of Asghar Farhadi’s 2012 Oscar-winner A Separation, in I (Me).
Leila Hatami, star of Asghar Farhadi’s 2012 Oscar-winner A Separation, in I (Me).
Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Both films are challenging, but Luntz hopes they, like all the films, introduce local audiences to something new about life in Iran and the concerns of Iranian filmmakers. “At this point, Americans have the opportunity to know what life is like in Iran simply through television and news stories.”

Though it's still often produced in an insular, restriction-heavy society — though much less isolated than 20 years ago when the festival started — Luntz says Iranian cinema has much in common with many other national cinemas. “I think there are a lot of universalities,” says Luntz, “themes about relationships, about families, about dysfunction.”

The most obvious difference, then, may be seeing your strong female leads, like Leila Hatami’s music teacher by day, purveyor of bootleg booze, fake passports and smuggled goods by night character in Soheil Beiraghi’s I (Me), wearing a headscarf. But, says Luntz, “it’s [still] a film about the profound loneliness of this woman’s life.”

The MFAH will also screen Wednesday, May 9 (Chaharshanbeh, 19 Ordibehesht), a traditional omnibus film about three individuals seeking money from a philanthropist; the “very droll” Radio Dreams, about an Afghan rock band’s quest to meet Metallica; and, closing the festival at the museum, Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman (Forushande), already shortlisted for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. The festival will officially conclude with a showing of the late Abbas Kiarostami’s A Taste of Cherry at Rice Cinema.

Lantouri screens at 7:30 p.m. followed by A Dragon Arrives! at 9:15 p.m. January 21 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet. For information, call 713-639-7300 or visit mfah.org/films. $8 to $10.

The 24th Annual Houston Iranian Film Festival continues at the MFAH with I (Me) (7 p.m. January 20), Wednesday, May 9 (8:30 p.m. January 20), Radio Dreams (5 p.m. January 22) and The Salesman (7 p.m. January 24), and at Rice Cinema with A Taste of Cherry (7 p.m. January 25).

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