The Nights of Zayandeh-rood
Set before, during, and shortly after Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, one family’s world is turned upside down amidst the dramatic changes in their country. An anthropology lecturer is accused of insulting the Shah while his daughter, a nurse in a suicide ward is entangled in a love triangle. In the face of political upheaval, father and daughter encounter complex personal and moral dilemmas.
About the director
Born in 1957 in pre-revolution Iran, Mohsen Makhmalbaf plotted to depose the Shah at 15 years old. Jailed at 17, Makhmalbaf started writing stories while imprisoned. Released during the 1979 uprising, he recovered the use of his legs and started filmmaking and writing, while campaigning for human rights.
Since 1981, Makhmalbaf has released a film, documentary, or book every year. The Cyclist (1987), established him as a notable voice in world cinema. Time of Love (1990) and The Nights Of Zayandeh-rood, were banned in Iran but screened at the Cannes and Venice International Film Festivals respectively.
In the 1990s, Makhmalbaf established himself as one of Iran’s most prominent filmmakers with the award-winning documentary Salaam Cinema (1995), and fiction films Gabbeh (1996), A Moment of Innocence (1996), and Silence (1998). Gabbeh and A Moment of Innocence were selected as two of the 10 best movies of the 1990s by The New York Times and International Festival Directors and Critics 1999.
Released in the U.S. in the wake of 9/11, Kandahar (2001) exposed the plight of Afghans under Taliban rule. Makhmalbaf won prizes at various festivals for his “visionary, poetic, yet unsparing revelation” of a film. After two years in Afghanistan, he made the documentary The Afghan Alphabet (2002), helping to lift an eight-year ban on Afghani refugees attending school in Iran. His feature film, The President (2014), also won numerous awards.
Makhmalbaf divides his time between Afghanistan, Tajikistan, India, and France, having left Iran in 2005 as a political protest. The directorial works of his daughters and wife, have all been banned in Iran since 2009.
Makhmalbaf Film House
Saeed Kamali Dehghan (The Guardian)
Film and Restoration
The story of The Nights Of Zayandeh-rood’s restoration is as remarkable as the film itself. This early classic showcases Makhmalbaf’s brave story and truth-telling, revealing his bold and formative stylistic experimentation. Partly titled after central Iran’s largest river, Zayanderud, The Nights Of Zayandeh-rood features early developments of the director’s style, influenced by Soviet cinema.
Originally 100 minutes long, The Nights Of Zayandeh-rood suffered 25 minutes of cuts before its premiere at Tehran’s Fajr International Film Festival in 1990. After Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei allegedly saw it, the cut film was banned and the remaining footage confiscated. Makhmalbaf apparently even received death threats. Twenty years after the film’s seizure, Makhmalbaf absconded with the remaining 63 minutes of film (12 minutes are lost) from the Iranian censorship archive and restored it in Paris, with the sound restoration done in London.
Watching his film again, Makhmalbaf remarked, “I was surprised to notice that in spite of all the mutilations… the film looked like a living thing with no limbs but… its story and meaning were not lost.”
The film still resonates as a moving portrait of the Iranian Revolution’s impact on society. The shifting socio-cultural mores and the Shakespearean moral quandaries confront the daily lives of its central characters. Audiences are provided an exercise in spotting and speculating censorship, and filling in visual, aural, and narrative blanks.
The restored version of The Nights Of Zayandeh-rood premiered as the opening film of the 2016 Venice International Film Festival’s Venezia Classici section, with Makhmalbaf in attendance.
Michael Rosser (ScreenDaily)
Saeed Kamali Dehghan and Leslie Felperin (The Guardian)
Venice International Film Festival