The Walker pulls back the curtain to reveal life inside Iran

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From March 18 through April 8, the Walker Art Center is presenting an opportunity to visit Iran on film.

A dream where he lost his sight haunted Iranian filmmaker Mohammad Shirvani and inspired him to put digital cameras into the hands of 7 Blind Women Filmmakers (March 18). After losing her sight in a medical error, a quiet woman is frozen in the trauma—until an explosive moment of confrontation. A young woman is fixated on the first love who left her when she lost her vision—until she uses the camera in a unique way to find closure. Another woman marries a blind man and has a child. While making a lovely testament to love, she also demystifies her disability in a powerful way. Family members can draw closer to a blinded daughter or feel burdened by her, and both reactions are revealed. These seven short films end with a shock one doesn’t expect. However, the quality is uneven and I hold Shirvani responsible: simply doing some astute editing would have strengthened the weaker films.

views from iran, a film series presented march 18-april 8 at the walker art center, 1750 hennepin ave., minneapolis. for tickets and information, see walkerart.org.

You might be surprised to know that Iran has celebrity scandals and high-profile crimes. One of the most infamous is exposed in The Red Card (March 25). On trial for murdering the wife of her lover, Shahla Jahed was the mistress of Iran’s soccer star and championship coach, Nasser Khani. Directed by successful film and TV actress Mahnaz Afzali, the film goes back and forth between courtroom scenes and home movies that Jahed made of her affair with Khani. Part a portrait of obsessive love gone sour, part a view of tarnished fame, the film is also a classic murder mystery. As she alternates between brazenly challenging the judge and falling into unrestrained hysterics, one struggles to figure out Jahed’s core character. Is she actually guilty of stabbing her rival in a jealous rage, or has she been framed by a lover who tired of both of the women in his life? Is her crime murder, or is it that she violated her society’s laws demanding chastity from women? This film brilliantly keeps you guessing until the last moment.

Unfinished Stories (April 1) is a suspenseful look at the restrictions on women’s lives through three overlapping stories, all taking place in one night. What could have been a contrivance works surprisingly well as a runaway teenager, a wife thrown out by her husband, and a new mother fleeing the hospital with her child take parallel paths. Director Pourya Azaabayjai’s night is ominously lit by street lights, neon, and doors flung open. In a culture that makes it a crime for a woman to show her hair, being out alone at night insures being seen as suspect. You immediately care about the fates of these three characters: the love-struck teenager struggles to rendezvous with the boyfriend she’s been forbidden to see; a wife, on the streets at night without her identification papers or a male relative, is by definition criminal; a young mother discovers she’s made a terrible mistake. Strangers’ acts of kindness relieve the tension of a film that ends too soon. Though the film’s title is fair warning, you can’t help but want to know more at the end.

An Iranian husband, Payman, returns home from America to renew his green card only to find his marriage crumbling in Over There (March 8). His wife Lelia demands her “marriage portion”—a fee negotiated at the time of Iranian weddings that can be claimed by the wife at any time during the marriage. With only ten days before he must return to the U.S., Payman is up against the clock. Shot beautifully in black and white, the film feels like a partially lost opportunity due to its weak script.

Views From Iran closes with a tribute to Iranian-American director Ramin Bahrani, who now teaches film at Columbia University—he won the “Someone To Watch” Award at the 2008 Independent Spirit Awards. I wasn’t able to preview Bahrani’s films, but critic Roger Ebert says that “after only three films, Bahrani has established himself as a major filmmaker.”

On Ebert’s 2006 top ten list was Bahrani’s debut film Man Push Cart (April 2) is about a has-been Pakistani pop star who now sells bagels in NYC. This free screening is a double feature that includes Chop Shop at 8:45 p.m. The film revolves around a homeless 12-year-old who longs for a family, even as he provides for his sister and a sidekick on the streets. This unlikely hero was portrayed by first-time actor Alejandro Planco, who won raves for his performance. Bahrani’s newest film, Goodbye Solo (April 3), is a meditation on the meaning of life through the meeting of a charming Senegalese taxi driver and a mysterious 70-year-old white man he picks up late one night. For this film, Bahrani received a nomination for an Independent Spirit Award for best director.

Views From Iran comprises a diverse lineup of films that let you inside Iranians’ homes, hearts, and intimate lives.

Lydia Howell (lhowell@visi.com), a winner of the 2007 Premack Award for Public Interest Journalism, is a Minneapolis independent journalist writing for various newspapers and online journals. She produces and hosts Catalyst: politics & culture on KFAI Radio on Fridays at 11 a.m.