Nasser Taghvai

Nasser Taghvai (born 10 July 1941, Abadan) is an Iranian filmmaker, photographer and writer. Taghvai is one of the few Iranian filmmakers who is as well-versed in literature as he is in moving images. A genuine intellectual. His artistic career is rather short, but very fruitful and rich: a few short-films, 6 influential features and a generation-defining television series. Taghvai is not only a great artist for the films he’s made, but he’s also worthy of praise for all the films he hasn’t directed. He set the record straight with everyone and himself a few years ago: “I won’t make another film as long as there’s censorship.“

Nasser Taghvai, along with other young filmmakers like Parviz Kimiyavi and Nasib Nasibi, started his career in television. In 1967, Fereydoun Rahnama who had recently returned from France, established an experimental group called “Iran Zamin”, and sent aspiring filmmakers to various locations in the country in an effort to make ethnographical documentaries. Taghvai returned to his birthplace in the south of Iran and made a couple of stunning documentaries: “The Jinn’s Wind” (1969) and “Arba’een” (1970). Thanks to his incredible knowledge of images as well as his grasp of literature, Taghvai makes the stand-out documentaries of the group and establishes himself as one of Iranian cinema’s greatest ethnographical documentarians. His films from this period possess a unique rhythm and tempo, as he’s managed to capture the flow in which people from warm and southern countries typically live in. Taghvai follows in the footsteps of film history’s greatest ethnographical documentaries: filmmaking with the people and not about people. He is neither looking down on his subjects nor does he view them as exotic entities; he instead tries to be a part of them.

Stills from “Arba’een” (1970)

In most of Taghvai’s filmography, features and documentaries alike, a form of anxiety and anguish hovers over his work which fills his films with fear and distress. His characters are usually dealing with some sort of mental or emotional crisis, which sometimes leads them to irrational behaviors. The locations also follow the trend; from uninhabited and bare deserts to claustrophobic rooms and mental hospitals. Evidently, Taghvai is greatly influenced by one of the most prolific Iranian writers ever: Gholam-Hossein Sa’edi. In Sa’edi’s work, there’s a omnipresent atmosphere of anxiety and an unexplainable fear which possesses the lives of every character. Taghvai’s “Tranquility in the Presence of Others” (1972) is an adaptation of Sa’edi’s story, whom he had collaborated with on the remarkable documentary, “The Jinn’s Wind”. This documentary has otherworldly images and an eerie script. Along with the film’s premise, that revolves around the traditional ritual of “Zaar” which in fact is a form of Jinn- exorcism in southern Iran, Taghvai conveys terror to the audience on a grand scale. The soothing voice of Ahmad Shamloo, one of the most renowned contemporary Iranian poets, multiplies the allure of the documentary.

Video excerpt taken from “The Jinn’s Wind” (1969)

Nasser Taghvai, much like Amir Naderi and other Iranian filmmakers from the south, grew up watching American films in the National Oil Company’s movie theaters. These directors weren’t familiar with the English language at that age, so they only went to the movies for the love of moving images, which developed their unique knowledge and appreciation for imagery in cinema. It is not far-fetched if we title Naderi and Taghvai as the most competent and talented Iranian directors in portraying movements, gestures, bodies and the shifting of energy. “Captain Khorshid” (1987) is a film of dazzling gestures and movements and “Tranquility in the Presence of Others” is an unparalleled work on the diverse motions of bodies. In the short-film “Liberation” (1972), Taghvai’s talent in depicting cinematic figures is on display more than ever. In one of the film’s most striking scenes, the kids put on strange masks, get in a boat and start gently rowing the boat. Taghvai manages to give us an uncanny collection of glorious cinematographic bodies, without ever using the conventional methods and formulas of the time. Only a southern director who loves Hemingway, is friends with Sa’edi, and adores Westerns on the big screen is capable of creating such an awe-inspiring scene. Video excerpt taken from “Liberation” (1972)

One of the principal and recurring themes of Taghvai’s cinema is the concept of “decline”. His characters’ best days are behind them and they’re living in their age of decline. His fascination with this concept is much like that of another great Iranian writer: Houshang Golshiri. In “Curse” (1974), an old squire’s life on a deserted island is interrupted with the arrival of a construction painter, which drives him to suddenly losing everything. In the “Uncle Napoleon” television series, the protagonist lives in an imaginary world and finds overwhelming similarities between himself and Napoleon. However, the prime example on this matter is undoubtably the main character from “Tranquility in the Presence of Others”; a retired, recently-widowed general, who marries a young teacher named Manijeh and lives with her in a rural town. He sells his chicken coop and returns to the capital to live with her young wife and daughters. His glory days are long gone and even his closest friends and loved ones no longer believe in his values, as they’re busy satisfying their own desires. He takes shelter in alcohol and eventually goes mad. The scene of him walking along with a military march is one of the most beautiful scenes in Taghvai’s cinema.

Video excerpt taken from “Tranquility in the Presence of Others” (1972)

Compared to his contemporaries, Taghvai’s views on women are very progressive. He has repeatedly expressed regret over not exploring the female character further in “Sadeq The Kurd” (1973). Except that one instance, almost all the women in Taghvai’s cinema are active and non-cliche characters. They have actual desires, they can express their desires (more so than the men can), and if needed, they’re able to influence on the desires of men as well. The women of “Tranquility in the Presence of Others” and “Curse” hold a special place in Iranian cinema compared to other female characters of the time, as they are able to think about and make decisions based on their desires, as much as the men are. Among them, the female protagonist in “Unruled Paper” (2001), played by Hediyeh Tehrani, is without a doubt one of the most remarkable women in Iranian cinema. She has an incredible imagination and is far more creative and capable than her husband is in many historically-male areas. She’s the one who’s able to grasp their life together and to retell it in a narrative structure. In this aspect, Hediyeh Tehrani’s character in “Unruled Paper” is very much like the classic women of Hollywood romantic-comedies: a woman with an extraordinary power to think, to speak, to answer, and to dream.

Video excerpt taken from “Unruled Paper” (2001)