On Jafar Panahi’s ‘The Circle’, which, in a small way, sparked the creation of ‘Super Deluxe’

Posted on March 28, 2019

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Super Deluxe opens this Friday, and in a long-ago interview, the director Thiagarajan Kumararaja told me about watching The Circle, the 2000 Iranian film by Jafar Panahi, where the narrative is handed over from one character to the next – a number of independent-yet-interconnected stories adding up to a powerful whole. He said he was astonished, and it helped him get over the big “what should I make next?” question. (It had been a while since his first film, Aaranya Kaandam.) Anthology-type films aren’t new, but what’s striking about Panahi’s work is the minimalism we’ve come to associate with Iranian cinema. Interlocking stories usually make for thrilling, flashy films, but The Circle opens on a black screen, which stays as the titles play out.

The sounds tell us that we are inside a room where a woman is giving birth. We hear her cries. She’s pushing. Then, there’s calm, and a few seconds later, as the credit “Produced, Directed and Edited by Jafar Panahi” comes up, we hear an infant’s wails. The credit disappears. The screen turns black again. And we hear a nurse say, “It’s a girl.” The film is an indictment of the treatment of women in Iran, and the blackness appears like a shroud of gloom, as though the screen had been cloaked with the floor-length chador the women are seen wearing in the movie. In 1983, the Iranian government published official regulations for filmmakers, and one of the rules went: “Islamic hejab must be obeyed at all times for women. This means: wearing loose long clothes and trousers in dark colours. Even scarves and chadors (a one-piece cloth covering head-to-toe) must be of dark colour…”

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