A Brazilian friend of mine once told me that if you were to say that you’re into Iranian movies in Brazil, you would be considered intellectual and open-minded! Whether that’s completely true or not doesn’t concern me, but the fact is that Iranian cinema has become a lot bolder in the international scene lately and a lot of people are getting into it.
Movies are a great and fun way to understand a culture. However many Iranian directors have been criticized by the Iranian public to exclusively portray the dark side of Iran. Many Iranians believe that the only films that would make it to international festivals are those depicting poverty and all sorts of economic and social problems in Iran. Somehow there’s a theory that suggests foreign juries have been intentionally rewarding Iranian films that emphasize on showing Iran as a troubled country.
Western movies about Iran are no different. Take 300, Not Without My Daughter and Argo for example. I find all of them absolutely insulting and can’t really find any reason why Argo should have been given an Oscar, rather than a political choice. The story was absolutely one-sided and didn’t give the audience any introduction into why the whole hostage crisis happened and what brought Iran to such a stage of anger towards Americans.
But I’m personally not very keen on the idea that all Iranian movies are presenting stories of sorrow and tragedies either. I honestly think there are quite a few Iranian films that represent our culture in an honest way. Sometimes I get the feeling that many Iranians have become super sensitive about how their country is represented overseas. Just because Iran has been portrayed so bitterly in western media doesn’t mean we should cover up the truth and make it sound like it’s all roses. Eventually, it will only be believable once people feel like they’re getting both sides of the story and a public that has been constantly used to seeing Iran as the dark enemy will probably not buy into an overly positive portrayal anyway.
But enough of that. Today I’m here to give you a decent selection of Iranian movies to watch before traveling to Iran. I’ve picked out a few from every genre that could give you some insight into not just Iranian art of moviemaking, but also our culture, history, society and of course the Iran-Iraq war which has been a significant part of our contemporary history – something foreign tourists know very little about.
Please understand this list is not necessarily a list of the best Iranian movies out there. We’ve just tried to pick a few that would give you more of a cultural insight of Iran rather than just sticking to the art of film making.
15 Iranian Movies to watch before traveling to Iran
#1 Maman’s guest 2004 | Dariush Mehrjoui
If you want to get an idea of what Iranian hospitality is all about then this movie is a must. I absolutely love the ending and the whole process is such a delight to watch. The story is about an Iranian mum who’s having unexpected guests for dinner and is having a crisis about what to make for them, especially considering their tough economic situation. Eventually, all the neighbors come to help and things turn out very different from what she thought…
#2 About Elly (2009) | Asghar Farhadi
A remarkable work of Asghar Farhadi, this Iranian movie is about a group of young people heading to the Caspian region for holidays – pretty much like most Tehranis would do. Until one of them mysteriously disappears…
It’s a great insight into middle-class Iranian lives and especially the younger generation.
#3 A Separation (2011) | Asghar Farhadi
Asghar Farhadi’s Oscar-winning movie is about a young couple in the process of divorce. The woman wants to immigrate to Australia while the husband doesn’t want to leave his sick father behind and their daughter is left to pick sides. It’s a touching story of a middle-class family in Tehran with a great performance by both leading actors.
#4 A Cube of Sugar (2011) | Reza Mirkarimi
This is a sweet story of a family preparing the wedding of their youngest daughter. It’s a great representation of how an Iranian family communicates and reacts to certain events and its big cast gives you a great insight into different social interactions in Iran.
#5 What’s the time in your world? (2014) | Safi Yazdanian
An ambiguous tale of an Iranian woman’s return to the hometown she has little memory of. Leila Hatami as the leading role finds herself stalked by a man who seems to know lots about her while she’s convinced they have never met. The movie takes place in Rasht, one of my favorite cities in northern Iran. It explores its narrow alleyways and gives you the scenery of its daily fresh market.
What’s the Time in Your World? is a delicate, understated exploration of memory, personal history and our perceptions of the past as much as it is a subtle and unconventional romance, one that segues into a valuable friendship.
#6 The Pear Tree (1998) | Dariush Mehrjui
A writer in search of inspiration looks back on his early life when he lived in a grand mansion and played in the extensive surrounding orchard of fruit trees. The movie set is a gloriously beautiful Iranian village, full of gardens, mountains and golden afternoons. The movie also offers surprising dashes of comedy to complement its nostalgic, somewhat trite main plot about a man remembering an unrequited love he had in his boyhood for an older girl.
#7 The Fish Fall in Love (2005) | Ali Rafii
An ex-political prisoner returns to his Caspian sea coastal village after 20 years and finds that his former love and sisters have turned their old house into a restaurant. Every shot of this Iranian movie is a postcard of its own. There’s so much Iranian food, the stunning scenery of northern Iran and long images of local specialties.
#8 Café Transit (2005) | Kambozia Partovi
A story of a couple that owns a cafe at the Iranian side of Iran-Turkey border. The woman is soon left widowed and decides to run the cafe on her own. She’s left with a lot of prejudice and a battle to prove herself right in a small village where a woman running a cafe is not a familiar scene.
Through her struggles, she meets foreigners making stops in her cafe and eventually starts a relationship with a Greek man…
#9 Gilaneh (2004) | Rakhshan Bani Etemad
This Iranian film is a story of a mothers love through times of war. Her struggles, courage, and hardship combined with her deep love for her children whom their lives have been severely affected by the Iran-Iraq war.
While the family strives to overcome the tragedies, America is about to attack Iraq. This is a sad story that could have easily happened in any other post-war country but it’s also the story of numerous Iranians living in a battle with the circumstances of Iran-Iraq war up to this day.
#10 Children of Heaven (1997) | Majid Majidi
Children of heaven is a touching and heartbreaking story about the innocence of two children raised in a lower-class family in Tehran. The boy, through no fault of his own, loses his little sister’s newly repaired school shoes the day before she needs them. It becomes their secret. They try sharing a pair of his sneakers — the girl wearing them in the morning and him in the afternoon to school. The wonderful, innocent faces of the beautiful Iranian children and their code of honor, even in poverty, provide the bases for a very uplifting tale of children trying to overcome a crisis. The direction, cinematography, music are all outstanding — but it is the children that you will fall in love with.
#11 Taste of cherry (1997) | Abbas Kiarostami
While Abbas Kiarostami’s Taste of cherry might not necessarily give much cultural insight about Iran, it would be uncultured of me to not mention a film by the most internationally praised Iranian director of all time.
Taste of cherry is a story of life and death. A man who has decided to commit suicide is driving outside of the city looking for someone to bury him under a cherry tree after his death. Like many other works of Kiarostami, it’s provocating, rich in dialogues and comes with extraordinary cinematography.
#12 From Karkheh to Rhine (1993) | Ebrahim Hatamikia
This is a story of an Iran-Iraq war victim named Saeed who goes to Germany for further eye treatments where he stays with his sister and her German husband. He is able to get his vision back and just as he is almost ready to move back home, they realize that he has other health issues which were caused due to being exposed to chemical gas during the war. This movie is tragic, heartbreaking and almost every Iranian has seen it.
#13 The white Nights (2003) | Farzad Mo’men
This movie is praise for love and literature. It’s a love story but a subtle and poetic one. It’s about a university professor who’s busy with his quiet life of books and literature until he meets a girl who has come to Tehran to meet his once former lover for 4 consecutive nights…
#14 The Wind Carpet (2003) | Kamal Tabrizi
This movie is a collaboration between Iran and Japan. It’s about a carpet which was supposed to be woven to be shown in a festival in Japan but the weaver dies before he even starts weaving. To get the carpet right in time for the festival a dedicated team must weave a carpet which would have normally taken 3 months in just 20 days. It’s an aesthetically beautiful film and tells you a lot about Persian carpets along with the process in which they are made.
#15 Here without me (2011) | Bahram Tavakolli
This movie is a free adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ play The Glass Menagerie. The story is about a small family in which the mother is trying hard to find a husband for her crippled daughter. The brother hates his job and wants to become a poet. Everything changes once he brings his friend home and apparently the right suitor is found for his sister…
I could go on forever but I thought 15 would be a good number to finish off my list of Iranian movies. I’ve given a few options in every theme so you’re free to do your further research and find the one fit for you. I’d personally suggestion avoiding dubbed movies and looking for those with an English subtitle instead. They just sound so much more real and I’m not really a big fan of how Iranian movies are dubbed.