Iran, like many countries, has navigated a complex and turbulent political history that has profoundly shaped its cinematic landscape. One pivotal chapter in this narrative was the revolution in 1979, a transformative event that birthed a unique cinematic movement. To fully appreciate the rich tapestry of Iranian cinema today, it is imperative to delve into this historical context.
Revolutions in human history are often heralded as fresh beginnings, symbolizing hope for a brighter future. However, history has demonstrated that this optimism doesn’t always materialize. The adage that “things have to get worse before they can get better” is sometimes invoked to rationalize such revolutions. Yet, what if the outcome falls short of improvement and instead begets further authoritarianism?
The Iranian Revolution of 1979 serves as a stark example of this paradox. In its wake, the new Islamic government assumed control over various forms of artistic expression, including cinema and music. A state-owned studio was established, producing short films with a focus on imparting moral lessons, such as religious adherence, the supremacy of Islamic governance, and the adoption of veils for women. This marked a significant shift for Iranian cinema, which had been flourishing internationally prior to the revolution.
Nonetheless, art is inherently resilient, perpetually seeking avenues to convey the underlying discontent and disillusionment experienced by society. Constrained by limited resources and subjected to stringent state censorship, Iranian cinema has persevered, offering profound insights into the human condition while navigating sensitive social and cultural themes. Despite these challenges, Iranian cinema has yielded some of the most poignant and remarkable films of recent decades. Characterized by a unique blend of realism and poeticism, Iranian cinema crafts visually stunning and emotionally resonant narratives that continue to captivate audiences worldwide.
In this post, we will list some of the best Iranian directors alongside some of the best Iranian movies. Before getting started we will provide a better understanding of Iranian cinema and inspire you to explore this rich and vibrant film industry.
The film industry of Iran is most commonly known as Iranian cinema or, less commonly, Persian cinema.
The term “Iranian cinema” is used to describe the entire film industry in Iran, including production, distribution, and exhibition of movies. Whereas “Persian cinema” is also used interchangeably with “Iranian cinema” as a reference to the Persian language, which is the official language of Iran and the language in most Iranian movies.
Before we move to the 5 best Iranian movies, allow me to give you a bit more background info on Iranian’s new-wave cinema. This was the basis for many of the internationally-renowed movies.
Iranian new-wave cinema is a term used to describe a period of Iranian cinema that emerged in the 1960s and continued through the 1970s. This period of Iranian cinema was marked by a departure from traditional narrative structures and a focus on social realism.
The directors of Iranian new-wave cinema were often young, educated, and politically aware. Abbas Kiarostami, Dariush Mehrjui, and Sohrab Shahid Saless are famous for “the finest directors”. Iranian new-wave cinema was also notable for its use of non-professional actors, which added to the realism of the films.
The Iranian new-wave cinema movement came to an end with the Iranian Revolution of 1979. However, the influence of Iranian new-wave cinema can still be seen in contemporary Iranian cinema, which continues to explore social and political issues in a realist style. Iranian new-wave cinema is considered to be one of the most significant and influential movements in the history of Iranian cinema.
Post-revolutionary Iranian cinema will always start with Abbas Kiarostami. However, he did release short black-and-white films, bread and alley, the experience, the traveler, among many others. It was in post-revolutionary Iran that his films gained recognition, and he received critical applause from movie pundits from the world over.
Humanism and poetry mix in Abbas Kiarostami’s films, which feature everyday people and deal with universal topics. His films are often sparsely acted and he is well-known for this.
Kiarostami’s Koker Trilogy, “Where is the Friend’s Home?” (IMDb 8.1), “And Life Goes On” (IMDb 7.9) and “Through the Olive Trees” (IMDb 7.7) is notable as one of the best movies by this Iranian Director.
“Close-Up” (IMDb 8.2) is perhaps the special movie that made Abbas Kiarostami famous. The film combines a narrative film and a documentary about a person who wants to become a director by impersonating a director.
Close-Up is one of the best Iranian movies by Abbas Kiarostami as the director. The main character Hossain Sabzian impersonates the famous Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf to successfully deceive a family into thinking he is the actual Makhmalbaf.
The film indirectly resists censorship by using an unemployed character who wants to become a filmmaker to earn his bread and butter. It is surely a delight for art cinema lovers and is one of the top Iranian movies in the Iranian movie box.
You can stream Close-Up (English Subtitled) on Amazon Prime Video.
Asghar Farhadi is one of the best Iranian film directors, screenwriters, and producers of contemporary times. His movies often have complex characters who are always in some moral dilemmas within ordinary family situations and are questioning their choices.
Farhadi came to the world stage after his successful release, “About Elly” (IMDb 7.9). His subsequent films, “A Separation” (IMDb 8.3) and “The Salesman” (IMDb 7.7) won him the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
He has also directed films outside of Iran, with French actor Tahar Rahim in the lead role in “The Past” (IMDb 7.7) and Javier Bardem in the lead role in “Everybody Knows” (IMDb 6.9). Hence, Farhadi is one of the top Iranian directors, who is famous for his portrait of emotions in delicate screenplays.
A Separation is certainly one of the best Iranian movies by Asghar Farhadi. It was the first Iranian film to win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2012. Without a doubt, this movie should be on your best Iranian movies list.
The film revolves around a middle-class Iranian couple, Nader, a husband, and Simim, a wife, who continuously fights and is seeking a divorce from the court. Simin wants to leave Iran with her daughter Termehin for better life prospects.
On the other hand, Nader has to take care of his elderly father, so he doesn’t like the idea of leaving Iran. When Simin moves out, Nader hires a caregiver, Razieh, to look after his father. What happens after is a series of misunderstandings and misfortunes that lead to a dramatic conflict between the characters.
You can stream A Separation on Amazon Prime Video.
Saeed Roustayi is one of the critically acclaimed directors of Iranian movies. Like his contemporaries, he focuses on social issues, but his narratives are intense, sometimes edging into thrillers.
His feature debut, “Life and a Day” (IMDb 8.2) is about a family where Somaieh. She is the daughter of the family, is getting married, and the family is dealing with poverty and a series of unfortunate events. Then his second film, “Just 6.5” (IMDb 7.8), made him one of the most famous directors of Iranian cinema. The film was a hit in the Iranian movie box and received critical acclaim.
Just 6.5 is one of the best new Iranian movies that Saeed Roustayi directed. The movie genre is a crime drama which you don’t see much coming out of Iran, so this one must be on your best Iranian movies list. It’s plot explores drug addiction and law enforcement authorities’ war on drugs.
There are many movies that delve into what is right and what is wrong. What makes this movie stand apart is its humanistic approach that, at some points, humans are compelled to make choices regardless of what’s right and wrong.
Saeed Roustayi won the best director award for the movie at Tokyo International Film Festival—just one of the Iranian box movies which were both commercially successful and critically acclaimed.
You can stream Just 6.5 on Prime Video.
Majid Majidi is an actor-cum-director who is famous for directing movies in beautiful environments and how it affects human emotions. It is the very reason that his films are about children that explore humanity and spirituality. Unsurprisingly, such themes have won him international accolades for bringing emotional depth to the cinema.
Majidi’s first direction, “Children of Heaven” (IMDb 8.2) was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. This event cemented his position as one of the best Iranian movie directors of contemporary times.
His other works include “The Color of Paradise” (IMDb 8.1) and “Baran” (IMDb 7.8). Additionally, “The Song of Sparrows” (IMDB 7.9), “Beyond the Clouds” (IMDb 6.9) and “Sun Children” (IMDb 7.1) are some of the best new Iranian movies by Majid Majidi.
If you are considering where to watch Iranian films, you can stream these movie on the Iranian movie box.
Children of Heaven is a heartwarming Iranian family drama film written and directed by Majid Majidi. The movie tells the story of a brother and sister, Ali and Zahra. Ali accidentally loses Zahra’s only pair of shoes. Now the siblings don’t want to tell the parents, so Zahra shares Ali’s shoes as per their secret plan.
However, when it becomes difficult to share a pair of shoes all the time, Ali must devise a plan to arrange a new pair of shoes. Although the plot is simple, it’s a touching story of love and resilience when faced with hardships. Children of Heaven certainly is one of the best Iranian movies of modern times.
You can stream Children of Heaven on Amazon Prime Video.
The last name on our list: Jafar Panahi – one of the best Iranian directors of contemporary times. His movies touch on topics that the censorship board frown upon, such as showing people, especially women, as socially conscious and characters giving political opinions in movies. What makes his films unique is their simplicity. There is realism, both in camera and in social commentary.
Panahi is an outspoken critic of the Iranian government, unlike his contemporaries. Hence, he produced these best Iranian movies with limited resources, such as “This Is Not a Film” (IMDb 7.4), “Closed Curtain” (IMDb 6.5), “Taxi” (IMDb 7.3) and “3 Faces” (IMDb 7.0). These films are shot with one camera; most scenes are just long shots.
Taxi,released in Iran as “Taxi Tehran,” is a docufiction film. In this movie, Panahi is in the lead role besides directing. The movie was available in 2015 after the 20-year filmmaking ban by the Iranian government in 2010. Then, it is a critically acclaimed movie and won the Golden Bear award – top prize at the 65th Berlin International Film Festival.
Panahi acts as a taxi driver in Tehran and uses a dashboard-mounted camera to record conversations with his passengers. There are different passengers in the movies, such as a conservative supporting capital punishment, a woman against it, and other passengers of all ages. Through these conversations, Panahi explores various social and political issues, such as censorship, women’s rights, capital punishment, and the power of cinema. It should be on your best Iranian movies list.
You can stream Taxi on Prime Video.
Undoubtedly, the history of Iran’s cinema is the blend of the country’s political and social turmoil.
Abbas Kiarostami, Asghar Farhadi, Saeed Roustayi, Majid Majidi, and Jafar Panahi, among many others, are some of the best worldwide Iranian directors for their unique cinematic styles and thought-provoking films. Their movies are both commercially successful and critically acclaimed, winning awards at international film festivals.
If you are thinking of watching Iranian movies this weekend, then include these movies in your best Iranian movies list and others whose names we have mentioned.
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