Masoud Kimiai

Masoud Kimiai (born 29 July 1941) is one of the most well-known filmmakers in Iranian cinema. Many critics regard his film “Qeysar” as the sole instigator behind the Iranian New Wave. His fans laud him as the greatest Iranian filmmaker, and his critics find his cinema inherently reactionary, if not dangerous. Both groups, however, mutually find Kimiai’s work as a major influence on Iranian cinema.

The Iranian New Wave, which came about in the late 1960s, included two separate movements: the first movement consisted of filmmakers who opposed the general ideas presented in popular cinema at the time, aka. “Film Farsi”, and made their films in contrast to those cliches, whereas the second group of filmmakers were trying to incorporate those Film Farsi cliches and make something different and creative from within. Masoud Kimiai is undoubtably the most prominent filmmaker from the latter group. He doesn’t entirely dismiss the fundamental principals of Film Farsi, but utilizes them within his own unique genre. For example, “Reza Motorcyclist” is based on a staple Film Farsi storyline: “An accidental shift in social-class structures”. But thanks to Kimiai’s unique visual style, as well as it’s bitter and brutal ending, it is evidently vastly different from Film Farsis with similar premises.

“Qeysar” is Kimiai most important film and in a way the all-time most influential film in Iranian cinema. A deeply divisive film that separated Iranian film critics into two groups. Some like Ebrahim Golestan and Parviz Davai praised the film wholeheartedly, while critics like Houshang Kavousi mercilessly bashed Kimiai’s work. The main issue regarding “Qeysar” for critics at the time, and even critics today, is the vulgarization of modern filmmaking; the film’s defenders point to its differences from Film Farsi, and its critics highlight their similarities. Both groups ultimately agree that Kimiai’s film elevated the level of Film Farsi. “Qeysar” was the first film that managed to stylize popular Iranian cinema, give it visual structure and grant its story a beating rhythm and tempo.

The protagonists in Kimai’s cinema usually only have one clear motive in life: vengeance. They embark upon a journey of vengeance and prefer to leave legal tools out of it, as for them, revenge has nothing to do with justice, but a way to regain honor and integrity. In films like “Qeysar” and “Balouch” the protagonists take their revenge alone without anyone’s help. Kimiai also took group revenges in some of his films, and influenced by the sociopolitical atmosphere, insertsed the idea of revolution into his films. The group-revenge scene in “Snake Fang” is one of the most beautiful moments in Kimiai’s cinema.

(Stills from Snake Fang)

One of the omnipresent criticisms towards Kimiai’s cinema is the misogyny in his films. Most of his films are about men whose honor is put in jeopardy, and their attempt to take revenge on those responsible and restore or maintain their honor. They either act alone or join forces with other men, friends and brothers. Naturally, in a world like this, there’s no room for a woman’s point of view. One of the main issues in Kimiai’s cinema which the story revolves around, much like other Film Farsi, is “rape”. In “Ghazal” two brothers jointly fall in love with a woman, but in order to salvage their brotherhood, they murder their lover. If rape was the instigator for expressing manliness in Kimiai’s other films, that ceases to be an option in this case. That’s why “Ghazal” probably reveals Kimiai’s actual view towards women better than any of his other films. It also manages to disassociate Fardin with the cliche image of the heartthrob leading- man who fights for honor better than any other film ever.

Kimiai’s characters are always en route to take revenge and are looking for who they need to take revenge from. That’s why the showdown scenes between the hero and the villain are very important in his cinema. Thanks to his visual taste and his talent for stylization, Kimiai turns these encounters into almost-operatic rituals. The necessary groundwork is laid before the encounter to amplify the magnitude of the scene. In this respect, Kimiai’s cinema is very much like Westerns, and especially, Spaghetti Westerns. One of his greatest encounters occurs in “The Red Line”. A blindfolded, imprisoned guerrilla operator, meets his interrogator, whose actually his brother-in-law, for the first time in the interrogation room. Kimiai delays the beginning of their conversation for a few minutes to turn their encounter into a performative ritual with camera movements.

One of the stand-out attributes of Kimiai’s films is the creation of various gestures. In certain scenes, the actors, with some help from the story and visual effects, turn themselves into moving statues by taking on various gestures. These gestures are often only cinematic gestures, but sometimes turn into social gestures and take on a loftier meaning. One of Kimiai’s most famous gestures is the moment Qeysar straightens the flat heels of his shoes, which heralds his intention to take revenge. These gestures are present in Kimiai’s later films as well, but they’re no longer woven into the story and the film’s texture, which is why they sometimes appear ridiculous to audiences, i.e. the scene in “The Wolf Trail” where Faramarz Gharibian roams the streets of Tehran on a horse.

Bodies are not the only figurative things in Kimiai’s cinema; dialogues also take on verbal gestures. The actor’s lines all have a specific tone and intonation, like a statue that forms in air and gestures its readiness to face and confront others. The titles of some of Kimiai’s movies also have a verbal gesture: “Snake Fang”, “The Wolf Trail”, “Journey of the Stone”, “The Blade and The Silk”. Kimiai’s characters not only gesture with their bodies, but also create audible figures with their words. Even the kids in “The Oriental Boy” have a gestural way of speaking and annunciating words. Their sentences are too polished and too old for them to say. As if their words are not their own and they derive from somewhere else, much like all gestures that come from somewhere else.