Black humor spices Iranian film

Cristina Franzi

Remember when you were little and your parents said no to eating candy before dinner? Or how as a kid you were told you could not chew gum in school? Maybe the disappointment you felt just yesterday when the public safety officer refused your request to drive onto campus? If you’ve ever been in any of these situations than you might have an inkling of what Iranian filmmaker Bahman Farmanara went through when his third film, “Tall Shadows in the Wind,” was banned in 1978, first by the Shah and then by the ayatollah’s regime.

The writer-director moved to Canada, where he spent his time as a film distributor and became the founder of the Vancouver Children’s Film Festival. But in 1989 Farmanara returned to his homeland, where he ran his family’s textile business and wrote scripts on the side. In 1990, after 22 years of having every screenplay he wrote rejected by government censors, Farmanara was finally granted permission to make “Smell of Camphor, Fragrance of Jasmine.”

In this semi-autobiographical piece, Farmanara plays a version of himself (though he originally had cast Iranian painter Aydin Aghdeashlov), a worn-out, middle-aged filmmaker, also named Bahman. The character of Bahman, like the real-life Farmanara, faces multiple rejections from Iranian censors.

However, he is finally allowed to do a project for Japanese television, which focuses on Iranian funeral rites. Bahman then uses this project to work out the details for his own death and burial.

Farmanara claims the idea for the film, which focuses on a dour topic but is peppered with moments of black humor, was a result of having his creativity denied for so many years. In fact, the character of Bahman says he fears an unfulfilled life more than death. Bahman (in the movie) has many reasons to be depressed: his wife has passed away, his son-in-law has disappeared, there’s a downturn in Iran’s economy, his mother is struggling with Alzheimer’s, he’s in poor health himself and he isn’t allowed to express himself as an artist. Is it possible for Bahman to overcome his feelings of despair? Will he undergo an epiphany and realize that every moment of life should be savored?

Come see the strength of what Bahman Farmanara’s authentic performance brings to “Smell of Camphor, Fragrance of Jasmine.” It will be screened by the Cultural Film and Lecture Series in the Connelly Center Cinema: Nov. 8 at 7 p.m., Nov. 9 at 3:30 and 7 p.m., and Nov. 10 at 7 p.m. Admission is $3 for students, and $4 for others.

Eran Preis, a filmmaker who teaches in Temple’s department of Film and Media Arts, will be at the Monday evening screening only, as the guest speaker. He will both introduce the film and then lead a discussion afterwards.

For more information, please call the communication department on weekdays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. or consult the CFS home page: