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If there is one element of the politics of Iranian cinema that is understudied,
it is that of the relationship between Iranian films and the Iranian film audience.
Saeed Zeydabadi-Nejad’s book, The Politics of Iranian Cinema: Film
and Society in the Islamic Republic, fills this glaring gap by providing a
unique insight into how Iranian films are received in Iran; what political and
social debates they spark; and how they form part of a larger nexus of power
negotiations between the state, artists, and film viewers. The book takes an
expansive approach to “politics,” not favoring hard politics over soft politics or vice versa, but showing how the two go hand in hand in defining the filmmaking
process in Iran.
The book’s uniqueness lies in its reliance on participant observation, in
addition to interviews, as one method of studying the Iranian film audience.
Through this, the reader gets a sense of people’s reactions to the films discussed.
Zeydabadi-Nejad often reproduces sections of conversation among
film viewers that bring to life his statements about the films’ relationship
with the political environment. The cynicism expressed by a group of young
people after watching Bahman Farmanara’s 2001 film House on the Water
(p. 86), for example, serves as a sharp illustration of the disillusionment with
state ideology among the urban middle class — an issue covered elsewhere
in the literature on Iranian cinema, but usually presented in generalized terms
rather than through the prism of individual reactions found here ...