TACK N°5 – WORK : GABBEH, A FILM CRITIC

By Heoluz and translated by Maia

It’s hard to find a definition for the word work. In cinema but also in the world of art where it is especially difficult to associate the artist with the amount of work that goes into a piece. What I mean by the difficulty to define the word work is that we imagine the artist’s brush moving naturally across the canvas. As if, the artist manages to effortlessly control his mouvements. We only see the canvas as a summary of its beauty and as a unique product of human genius. Generally, we only see the artist’s works (whether cinematographic or in another form of art) as the final result.We ignore the process and all the work that has been accomplished, we are oblivious to the trials and to all the problems that came up and were eventually resolved.

If we were aware of the efforts made to achieve these results, if we celebrated them for their true value then Humanity would undoubtedly grow from it. However, the society in which we live places more importance on the final product than on the process.

The excessive consumption of goods due to capitalism (of which films are an essential part) has not drawn the eye of the general public to the work provided by the artists, but instead has only shown the completed and polished products.

To link the subject of work to the film that I am going to present to you, I will rely on the concept of a painter. To create his paintings and his drawings, he needs colors which are present in nature, but also knowledge, and control which is passed down through the ages.

Thus without further ado here is Gabbeh a film that shows the transmission of this eponymous traditional carpet (gabbeh), a particular heritage in Persia.

Released in 1996, it is an Iranian film by Mohsen Makhmalbaf, who at the time was a very popular director in Iran. He has directed numerous films but he also starred in one: Close-Up (1990), a work that was inspired by a news story where a young man pretended to be Mohsen Makhmalbaf himself so that he could live a more dignified lifestyle. This film was also directed by the other great Iranian director of it’stime,AbbasKiarostami(youhavetoseeThetasteofcherries​-1997).Mohen Makhmalbaf wasn’t looking to be on the big screen since he was a writer. Partisan of the Islamic Republic and opposed to the Shah of Iran, when he failed he published two novels and then turned to the cinema. Although he fully embodies the regime’s values, Mohsen Makhmalbaf discovered in the national archives, the existence of different works that changed his world views. From that point on he became a critic of the regime. And he could afford it (Iran would only experience an authoritarian turn around in the years leading up to 2000) since in 1987 ​The peddler was met with great success and he acquired a certain notoriety with the Iranian public. However Gabbeh​ is one of his first works that received international recognition.

And Mohsen Makhmalbaf follows it up with incredible films such as ​The Silence (1998)​ or Blackboards – 2000 (a film directed by his daughter, Samira Makhmalbaf and produced by Mohsen and his company), the latter will be rewarded at the Cannes film festival. Nevertheless the success at the end of the 90’s concealed the Iranian state’s disinterest in cinema but also the increasing amount of private investments.

The film Gabbeh refers to a Persian carpet, it is a very colorful film. By definition Persian carpets are, they have all kinds of colors but there are many different types.

Like the Ottoman carpets, they are made thanks to a developed and highly specialized craftsmanship.

They only represent forms (in Iran, religion does not allow for human representation) and are made with precious fabrics. The one we see in the film is not meant to be sold, but to be given as an inheritance gift. The carpet is an important object for the nomade Persian community that we will follow throughout the film. In addition it is a very rustic object, it is not seen as precious in the sense that it won’t be worth a lot of money. It is their tradition, they weave both human and animal forms and it represents the different stages of life of the people in the community. For example a marriage, a birth or even a death … It is twice as important since in this film it also embodies a woman who is desperately looking for a husband, she is the « Gabbeh » and first appears after an elderly couple’s discussions from the region remembering their lives.
It’s the beginning of a long love story and we quickly understand that what for us was simply a colorful carpet is in fact a representation of Persian history. These intertwined stories of these nomadic people who are one with nature celebrate a life which unfolds to the rhythm of travelling and discovery. With the uncle teaching young children what nature has to offer, and picking flowers it allows everyone to be reminded of what eternity really is. We can thus grasp that the « gabbeh » is not only a useful object but it’s also knowledge, an object that has a soul and a lifetime worth of work put into it.

To conclude, Iranian cinema is not just about Mohsen Makhmalbaf and Abbas Kiarostami, although they did and still do great works like ​The President (2015)​ or Like Someone In Love (2012). And you might even have heard of Marjane Satrapi, author,designeranddirectorofPersepolis(2007).​Thereisalsoacinemaforshort Iranian films and one I think that is quite interesting to watch is ​Tribute to the teachers (1977)​ by Abbas Kiarostami who wanted to show the dedication of teachers, their hard work and determination under difficult circumstances.

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