So Farewell then, Laser Video…

Laser DVD in Dublin.

Laser DVD in Dublin.

First, some quick housekeeping. For the moment, I’m going to be posting here once a month, as opposed to every week. If things are particularly slow in your neck of the woods, and you’d like to hear why, by all means drop me a line in the comment section, and I’ll make a short story boring. But for the moment, onwards:

For anyone who’s lived or studied in Dublin over the last 25 years, Laser Video, as it was and then Laser DVD wasn’t so much an institution as it was a lifeline. Since it moved to Georges Street from Ranelagh 22 years ago, it fostered around it a community of aspirant film makers and musicians and the intellectually curious from all around the city and its environs.

Women Without Men.

Women Without Men.

The last three films that I picked up from there, as I recall, were: A Time For Drunken Horses, a Kurdish film from 2000 that manages to be incredibly culturally specific and yet timelessly universal; the sumptuous Iranian film Women Without Men from 2010, which I reviewed earlier here; and Fassbinder’s sole foray into science fiction, World On A Wire which was originally broadcast as a two part mini series on German television in 1973.

All three were a joy to behold and are impossibly hard to get your hands on. Or at least they would have been, but five years ago.

The truth is, I’ve been to Laser significantly fewer times over the last two years than I had in the previous two. And I had been far fewer times during those previous two years than in the two before them. I had every intention of frequenting it as ardently as I had in the past, it just didn’t happen.

David Byrne's True Stories.

David Byrne’s True Stories.

The very technology that made a place like Laser possible ultimately rendered it redundant. Or at least commercially unviable. It was the revolution in film distribution thanks to the arrival of video that lead to the creation of a place like Laser. And it’s the Internet and the ripples created by the digital revolution that have lead to its tragic demise.

It’s desperately sad for everyone involved. And we’re all going to miss it terribly. And I suppose, if anyone’s to blame, we all could have made a bit more of a conscious effort of late.

But, for good or ill, the world has moved on. To quote from True Stories, which is exactly the kind of film that you would only previously have ever chanced upon in Laser. David Byrne, whose only work as a director this is, turns to camera, and says:

What time is it? No time to look back.

Farewell then, and thank you.

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“Women Without Men”, One More Must See Film from Iran.

Women Without Men.

Women Without Men.

Women Without Men sounds like another of those worthy but dull, educational chores. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s a sumptuous, richly evocative film that calls to mind the heady days of Italian cinema in the 60s and early 70s.

Think late Visconti, De Sica’s The Garden of the Finzi Continis (reviewed earlier here) and the Taviani brothers. Imagine if Bertolucci had ever managed to use his technical bravura to actually say something.

Shirin Neshat, whose first film this was, has said that she was influenced by Kiarostami when she decided to make the move from conceptual art into the world of feature films. And she is very much part of that new wave of Iranian film makers that also includes Ashgar Farhadi, whose A Separation and About Elly I reviewed here and here, and poor Jafar Panahi, reviewed here who, outrageously, remains imprisoned in Iran.

This Is Not A Film

Panahi’s This Is Not A Film.

Interestingly and unlike them, she is looking at Iran from the outside, having lived most of her life as an exile in the US.

Neshat  has taken Shahrnush Parisipur’s famous novella, which charts the lives of four women, and has posited their stories against the backdrop of the events of 1953. It was then that the British and the US came together to overthrow the democratically elected government of Mosaddegh, and supplant him with a military dictatorship under the Shah, so they could regain control of Iran’s oil supply.

I can’t for the life of me imagine why a film maker would waste her time on historical events like this that clearly have so little relevance to the world we live in today.

Inevitably, indeed necessarily, revolution followed 25 years later. And immediately after which, the same crowd armed and funded Iraq in its war against Iran. And then, more oil, more US and British troops, yet more resentment, and so on ad infinitum. And let’s not even get into the centuries of abuse in neighbouring Afghanistan. Little wonder then that Iran looks at the West with all too weary and jaundiced eyes.

Women Without Men.

Women Without Men.

All of which could have resulted in a painfully dull film, part historical lecture, part feminist tract. But what Neshat has made instead is a marriage of magic realism and exquisite, formal precision. The result is ravishingly beautiful and quietly moving. Four female archetypes set against the backdrop of political turmoil, in the face of which, resistance appears futile.

And yet, resist they must. We all should.

It won the Silver Lion at Venice in 2009 – in fairness, the Golden Lion went to the brilliant Lebanon. You should see them both, and you can see the trailer for Women Without Men here.

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