When the 2011 Iranian film A Separation swept across the international cinema land scape winning a string of major kudos, it also swept many Chinese cinephiles off their feet.
Here is a movie that cost a mere $300,000 and tells a simple tale of two families, an antithesis to the glamour of screen portrayals, but it sheds light on a country with its education, religion, class, gender roles, among others.
Best of all, it is a gentle probe into the core of humanity, making it accessible to those with no knowledge to the country where the movie was made, or even to those hostile to it.
While many are ignorant about the country per se, they are fascinated by what Iranian filmmakers have to offer – something that is the opposite of Hollywood blockbusters.
Iranian films are often about families and friends, daily routines that do not lend readily to screen dramatization.
Yet many of these works are engrossing because they show the microscopic nuances of human dynamics within these limited ranges.
Abbas Kiarostami is an Iranian film master who is held in very high regard in China. Scholarly pieces and volumes have been devoted to the analysis and appreciation of his films, including Taste of Cherry and The Wind Will Carry Us.
It can be challenging for the uninitiated to sit through an Abbas film, which is not strong on plot, to say the least.
But those who love him have discovered a vast world of its own.
Other than films, poems and photographs of the master have also graced Chinese pages and galleries.
Iran also has movies that are not abstruse, but rather, deceptively simple and poignantly humanistic.
The 1997 family drama Children of Heaven, often translated as Small Shoes in Chinese, has warmed many Chinese hearts.
It is about a boy from a disenfranchised family who lost his little sister’s shoes and went through many adventures for a pair of replacement.
On the Chinese website douban for reviews, the movie has a score of 9.1, averaged from over 100,000 viewers.
Zhang Yang, a Chinese film director, used Iranian cinema as a reference point: “I feel that you do not need to choose an anti-social or political subject to stand out, but rather, to discover the humanity in daily routines and trivialities, the kind of small things one takes for granted, and that will elevate you to a higher artistic status.”
A married couple is faced with a difficult decision: to improve the life of their child by moving to another country or to stay in Iran and look after a deteriorating parent who has Alzheimer’s disease.
The Wind Will Carry us
Irreverent city engineer Behzad comes to a rural village in Iran to keep vigil over a dying relative. In the meantime, the film follows his efforts to fit in with the local community and as a result, how he changes his own attitudes.
Taste of Cherry
An middle-aged man drives his truck in search of someone who will quietly bury him under a cherry tree after he commits suicide.
Children of Heaven
After a boy loses his sister’s pair of shoes, he goes on a series of adventures to find them. When he can’t, he tries a new way to “win” a new pair.
Life and Nothing More/ And Life Goes on
After the southwestern earthquake, the film director and his son travel to the devastated area to search for the actors in the movie the director made there a few years ago. In their search, they learn how people who had lost everything in the earthquake still have hope and try to rebuild their homes.
Where is the Friend’s Home
An 8-year-old boy makes every effort to return a friend’s notebook he took by mistake, lest his friend be punished by expulsion from school.