The success of Iranian cinema in France: inexpensive films acclaimed by the public

“The Law of Tehran”, “Pardon”, “The devil does not exist”, “A hero” … Iranian films have been jostling in French cinemas for several months. Films bought at a good price and acclaimed by an audience curious to see from the inside an inaccessible Iranian society.

A thrilling chase through the winding alleys of Tehran. A police officer chases a crack dealer who ends up under the sand of a concrete mixer. The scene is from the thriller “The Law of Tehran”, by Saeed Roustayi, released in France in July. The Iranian film, which ran for more than a month, exceeded the 150,000 entries. A good score for the work of a director unknown to the general public.

Project an Iranian thriller in French cinemas. “Unimaginable twenty years ago,” said Asal Bagheri, teacher and researcher at Cergy Paris University and specialist in Iranian cinema.

The year that is coming to an end is one of the richest in terms of Iranian film releases in France, with at least four films showing, including “A Hero” by Asghar Farhadi, released on Wednesday December 15 and awarded a prize. at Cannes.

The ravages of drugs, the corruption of officials, injustice and redemption, the setbacks of a couple … so many subjects addressed by these films and which make them successful. “A social cinema, down to earth, which shows the deep problems of Iranian society wedged between tradition and modernity, the individual drowned in the collective”, explains Asal Bagheri. “There is a curiosity of the French public who want to see Iran on a daily basis, which they do not have access to because the media do not show it and because traveling in Iran is not easy at the moment.”

Asghar Farhadi’s success paved the way

In Iran, this cinematographic genre has always existed, except that this “cinema of reality” was hardly acclaimed by distributors and international festivals. “In the first years after the Revolution (1979), the cinema world did not want to hear about Iran. People thought that the Islamic Republic would not hold the war against Iraq (1980-1988) and that the Iranian cinema from this period would be ephemeral, “says Asal Bagheri. But the Islamic Republic endured, along with its filmmakers, productive even in times of war.

After the conflict, the world discovers Abbas Kiarostami. “A refined, poetic style, based on philosophical and universal elements, far from geopolitical hassles. If the choice of foreign distributors fell on Kiarostami’s cinema, it is also because they wanted a cinema without Kalashnikovs, nor chador, far from Iran as we knew it at the time. ” But the films of this master of Iranian cinema, dedicated to Cannes in 1997 with a Palme d’Or, are difficult to show in all theaters. Adored by critics, this arthouse cinema does not attract the general public.

Years later, it was the success of director Asghar Farhadi that paved the way for a more “popular” success in cinema from Iran.

Released in 2011 in France, “A Separation” was seen by more than a million spectators, a record for an Iranian film, says Asal Bagheri. “From then on, we note an increasingly strong presence of Iranian films in international festivals. Thus, we begin to take an interest in this other Iran, absent for too long from the screens, that Farhadi is staging: a contradictory Iran , certainly, but modern, young, dynamic, perpetually in motion and in constant negotiation. “

Co-productions with France and Germany

In the wake of this success, in ten years, the marketing of Iranian films has changed. “Bigger distributors – still independents though – have entered the arena,” says Asal Bagheri. Many Iranian films are now co-produced with foreign companies, like the French Memento who shares the production of Asghar Farhadi’s films since “Le Passé”, released in 2013. Moreover, for “A hero” released in room Wednesday, the Iranian director was to come to France for postproduction, but the Covid-19 crisis decided otherwise.

Asghar Farhadi is not the only one. Co-productions tend to multiply, with France and Germany in particular. A model that makes you want. In Iran, more and more filmmakers are looking for foreign producers. First for obvious economic reasons since Iran is going through a deep crisis weighing on the slightest investment. But also “because being co-produced abroad is an additional chance to see your film shoot at international festivals. It also allows you to break away from the censorship that affects Iranian cinema.”

Inexpensive films

On the French side, the cinema industry also finds its account there. Iranian films are bought at a good price compared to the international market. “We have come a long way,” recalls Asal Bagheri, who testifies to a time when some filmmakers were only paid if the film made a profit.

“The world cinema community understood that there was a tremendous amount of talent and good screenwriters in Iran. It didn’t cost them much in labor given the plummeting dollar in the country, and we know that these are films that will work in their category – even if it is not that easy to find the right person. “

Other observers of Iranian cinema lament off the “commercial aspect” that has won their cinema and “filmmakers who find themselves in the spotlight, forced to take on the role of representative of the Iranian people at their expense.”

However, apart from a few “tourist” elements scattered here and there in certain Iranian works with the aim of appealing to a foreign public – according to Asal Bagheri, accustomed to deciphering the codes of cinema – this search for international recognition has not not yet altered the nature of Iranian films.

Asal Bagheri recalls that the cinema screened in France only represents a tiny part of the very prolific Iranian production. She estimates the number of films produced in 2019 at nearly 200 before the outbreak of Covid-19. “Interesting films certainly go by the wayside,” she notes. Works that would undoubtedly deserve a risk-taking on the part of foreign distributors.

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The success of Iranian cinema in France: inexpensive films acclaimed by the public