Deconstructing Directors: Majid Majidi & The Rise Of Iranian New Wave Cinema!

By Nita Deshmukh. Posted on October 07, 2015

Majid Majidi was born in Iran and started acting in a theater groups since the age of 14. Thanks to his interest in cinema, he acted in various films including Mohsen Makhmalbaf's Boycott (1985). In 1997, Majidi directed Children of Heaven-  which competed in the 'Best Foreign Language Film Category' at the Oscars and was a turning point in his illustrious career.

Since then Majidi has directed films like The Color of Paradise, BaranThe Willow Tree and The Song of Sparrows. He has also directed a feature-length documentary titled Barefoot to Herat.

Majidi was one of the five international film directors invited by the Beijing government to create a documentary on the city of Beijing. Majidi pulled out in protest against the publication in Denmark of cartoons satirizing the Islamic prophet, Muhammad. Majidi writes, "I believe in God and live with my beliefs in every single moment of my life. I would like to protest against insulting any religious belief and icon,".

Majidi has been working in the Iranian film industry for over twenty years. In this span of 20 years, he has managed to confront the various issues facing Iran including Islamic fundamentalism, all the while continuing to portray the many beautiful aspects of the Islamic faith.

Humanitarian Films

Humanitarianism is one of the important aspects of Majidi's films. Though his themes are contemporary, the plot is an interplay of modern and ancient ways of life in Iran.  His work often gives a feeling of rich Sufi culture that continue to exist till date In Iran. Majidi  encourages viewers to understand the human experience in poetic terms.

Children of Heaven goes to great lengths to portray this theme, and the result is a beautifully woven story that expresses how one person's actions can have a huge impact on the lives of others. This is found in the scene where a street beggar accidentally takes Zahra's shoes. As Zahra leaves for school wearing Ali's shoes, the viewer hears the street beggar walking about, yelling the items he has for sale, which include girl's shoes. Zahra does not notice this, but she does notice when a young girl shows up at school wearing her shoes. Zahra follows her home but sees that her father is blind, and so she leaves without trying to get them back.

Non-Professional Actors

The casting of Baran was a complex task. The search was for a girl not exactly beautiful but with something spiritual in her face. Majidi told his assistants to concentrate on the eyes. He said to them ''I want someone very strong but with a tender look in the eyes".

He started the search in Tehran, with schools where mostly Afghanis went and looked for a month-and-a-half. When he couldn't find anyone, he went to the suburbs, to look among mostly peasants and workers. Then he decided to go to Mashad, near the border with Afghanistan, where there were two big Afghan refugee camps in the desert. Majidi went to a camp director and asked him if he could  get all girls from age group of 13-16, to come to one place so he can look at them.  The director called them together , and Majidi  watched a huge crowd, about 500 girls passing by. He saw this one girl with a black-and-white veil, and, as she disappeared into the crowd. That's when he thought, 'That's her!'

Portrayal of Women

Majidi's films demystify the Iranian culture for a western audience. While themes involving women and love were forbidden in the years following the Iranian revolution in 1979, the modern day Third Republic is giving filmmakers more liberal allowances to tell the types of stories they want to tell. This can be seen in Baran, especially in relation to Lateef's observations of Baran's every move. Another shocking element is Majidi's willingness to break Hejab in the scene where Lateef sees Baran in silhouette through a window as she is combing her long hair. These moments, while innocent and beautiful, would have been considered absolutely immoral and corrupt by Iran's other regimes.

Narrative Style of Cinema

Majidi is trying to tell stories about the struggle for identity within a strict political environment, much like the filmmakers of the Italian Neo-Realist movement did. Stylistically, Children of Heaven, being the first acclaimed film from Majidi, is very simple and fluid. Many shots seem to linger on their subject, adding to the feeling of realism. For the hour and a half that the viewer is watching Ali and Zahra's struggle, their emotions and concerns become yours, allowing the viewer to enter a world that would have previously been incomprehensible.

The opening shot in Children of Heaven is one of the most complex yet so simple of all.  The shot uses extreme close-ups of hands working. These close-ups expose what would ordinarily be seen as everyday mundane actions, and transform them into moments of beauty, giving dignity to the worker and to the action itself. Children of Heaven opens on a static close-up of a worker's aged and dirty hands slowly and carefully sewing and patching a pair of worn, petite pink shoes. This shot lasts for several seconds before it cuts to a medium shot that introduces Ali as he waits and watches the repairman.

Religion and Faith

Though religion and faith are mainly background themes in Majidi's other films, The Color of Paradise continually discusses God, and even depicts a bright light at two pivotal moments in the film, the death of the grandmother, and Mohammad's 'coming back to life' after his father finds him washed up on a beach after an accident.

In The Color of Paradise Majidi beautifully manipulates the sound to keep the viewer firmly focused on the world around Mohammad. Several times within the film all sounds fade out, leaving just one prominent and noticeable sound, usually that of a bird singing. At these moments, the camera focuses only on Mohammad's face, and never reveals the actual subject making the noise.

The above aspects certainly make Majidi a distinctive filmmaker. Art has always found ways to flourish, no matter the restrictions placed on the freedom of expression. In fact the more a government tries and suppresses a society, the more its artists push back. Majidi is an apt example of just that kind of an artist along with his Iranian peers. Majidi's art of storytelling  and his honest approach to realism makes him one of the finest filmmakers of today.


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