“[Kimiavi] employed an authorial, surrealist, and avant-gardist style consisting of real people enacting either their own lives or fictionalized versions thereof; the seamless mixing of fantasy and documentary; ironic, humorous, contrastive, and critical juxtapositions of worlds, elements, and scenes; fragmented, nonlinear narrative structures; dialogues often developed with the aid of eccentric, outsider characters; and the director’s self-inscription, cinematic self-reflexivity, and authorial self-referentiality.
Many of these stylistic features surfaced early, in what may be called Kimiavi’s ‘lyrical documentaries,’ P as in Pelican (P‑e Mesl‑e Pelikan, 1972), a short-subject film, and The Stone Garden (Bagh‑e Sangi, 1976), a feature-length film, both of them international award winners. Both films follow an open form. In them he casts isolated, real-life, odd old men, who are not professional actors, as protagonists. These appear to be crazy outcasts but ultimately they reveal themselves to be mystical seers. Instead of being recessive and brooding, living in claustrophobic spaces, these characters are loquacious, rebellious, and outgoing, living in a ruin and an open desert, respectively. They offer a variant to the paradigm of the lone strangers who tell us something about, and comment on, both the diegetic society and the larger society beyond the screen. Despite, or perhaps because of, severe poverty, each character has developed a rich imagination and an alternative reality, enriching his barren and isolated life.
As he told me in an interview, Kimiavi became interested in isolated and eccentric figures when he attended middle school in Naishapur. One day, the literature teacher asked the students to find a subject for their essay not in the cliché topics assigned in those days but in their personal research. This unusual freedom brought Kimiavi to a blind and bald bean-seller on the edge of a bazaar. The essay the young Kimiavi wrote about him caught the teacher’s attention, who liked it very much but refused to read it to the class because it contained a poem critical of their hometown: ‘One is bald, one is blind, and the other is mute / damn to the city of Naishapur’ (Naficy 1989:92). His interest in the bald and blind bean-seller was not political but ethnographic, and that same interest drew him to the eccentric and disabled characters in both P as in Pelican and The Stone Garden. Blindness and deafness can also be read as symbolizing censored and silenced intellectuals. Yet instead of imposing the forceful seriousness of closed-form aesthetics, Kimiavi has his characters transcend those limitations by the power of their playful imagination. In both, the dramatic, open locations externalize the characters’ imagined and surreal internal worlds.”
- 1Hamid Naficy, A Social History of Iranian Cinema, Volume 2: The Industrializing Years, 1941-1978I (Durham & London: Duke University Press, 2011), 387-390.