Iranian Pioneers Of The French New Wave Cinema by Darius KADIVAR
Left to right Fereydoun Hoveyda in Paris in 1946 was one of the founders of Les Cahiers du Cinéma with François Truffaut and Jean Luc Goddard who spearheaded the French New Wave known as La Nouvelle Vague. Centre first major coverage of future Cannes Laureat Abbas Kiarostami in 1995 issue of Les Cahiers. © Leydkam Eskandar and © Les Cahiers du Cinéma
il y a des films qui font aimer la vie - François Truffaut (*)
The terminology Nouvelle Vague or New Wave referred first and foremost to the young generation of film critics of the late 50's and early 60's who reacted to what they considered as a stagnation of their national cinema. They therefore decided to make their own films. Amongst them were François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Goddard, Claude Chabrol and Eric Rohmer or future Hollywood director Barbet Shroeder (Interestingly born in Tehran, Iran in 1941 where his German geologist Father was on assignment). Truffaut launches the manifesto for his mouvement in an article entitled Une certaine tendance du cinéma français published in the Cahiers issue of 1954. The New wave also proved to be technically innovative as a new film trend that defies the traditional cinema narrative and provokes the viewer. The movie freeze scenes, the abrupt change of speed, false film cuts or long shots are a few of such techniques brilliantly illustrated in films such as Godard A Bout de Souffle . The pioneers of the Nouvelle Vague believed in making what they considered as new works aimed to be equally personal and ambitious. They did not always achieve or meet their audience but they did have an enormous impact on the way this new artform was percieved by film critics and the industry. Interestingly the Iranian Cinema has gained International fame with the works of Abbas Kiarostami or the Makhmalbaf father and daughter in the last decade and a half under a similar denomination: The New Wave. A closer look at the history of the French Nouvelle Vague will nevertheless show that interactions between Iranian and French Cinema have existed from an early age and often due to surprising coincidences that may have escaped the filmmaking pioneers intentions. Indeed the French New Wave Cinema as well as its less known cinematographic siblings of France's post 68 years were to benefit from the contributions of Iranian artists and creators …
Comment Peut -on être Persan? (**) Seems to ask Montesquieu in the first lines of Les Lettres Persanes aka the Persian Letters published in 1721. Iranians, particularly the intelligensia have had a love affair with France and the French long before the United States became a super and a regional power in the Middle East. Persian Kings had already established diplomatic relations with French Kings such as Louis XIV (related in French film Angélique et le Roi with Sami Frey as Persian Ambassador Mohamed Reza Bakhtiari Bey ) and subsequently with the presidents of the French Republic. In fact one French president Marie François Sadi Carnot was the son of an admirer of Persian Poet Sa'adi of Shiraz. He named the future President in tribute to the author of the Golestân. Mozzaferedin Shah's visit to Contrexeville in 1900 is still considered today as one of the highlights of historical visits to the French town by Foreign dignitaries. Emperor Napoleon (read by Iradj Amini: Napoleon and Persia ) and President Charles De Gaulle in turn extended diplomatic and cultural ties between France and Persia/Iran often to the irritation of their British counterparts. French schools such as Razi or Jeanne D'Arc were to take root in the Iranian capital Tehran before the second World War and Iranian writers have always considered France as the country of enlightment and inspiration. The works of, Montesquieu (author of Les Lettres Persanes), Voltaire (Zadig), Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Alexander Dumas or Jules Vernes were long translated into Persian before the works of Shakespeare, James Joyce or Mark Twain and even under the pro American Dynasty of the Pahlavi Shah's, French culture and Art de Vivre were considered with great respect, partly because of Mohamed Reza Shah's French education in the Swiss school Rosay but also because the subsequent Pahlavi Queens Fawzia, Soraya or Farah were all french educated and encouraged French cultural centers and exhibitions in Iran throughout their reigns. Mohammed Mossadegh spoke fluent French and defended in the language of Molière the case of the nationalisation of Iranian Oil at the United Nations and later in The Hague. Paradoxically the Islamic Revolution of 1979 was also to take ground in France, where Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeiny's presence at Neuphle Château continues to haunt memories…
Antoine Coypel depiction of Louis XIV greeting Mohamed Bakhtiary Bey, ambassador of Shah Tashmasp II of Persia at the Galerie des Glaces of Versailles on 19 Feb. 1715. Insert portrayal of Bey by Sami Frey in Robert Hossein's Angélique movie.
Throughout the first half of the 20th century France was also the major destination for Iranian students who could not afford going to the United States or wished to start their university education in a European country where political ideas and free thinking were probably more tolerated. The last Prime Minister of the former Shah, Chapour Bakhtiar was also married to a French and during his youth courageously fought the Nazi Occupation in the French Resistance. Many future diplomats were also to receive a French education in Belgium or former French colonies or protectorates like Lebanon, Algiers or Morocco. This was the case of future ambassador to the United Nations Fereydoun Hoveyda (brother of the ill-fated prime minister Amir-Abbas (See student years in Paris ). Interestingly Fereydoun Hoveyda was also to play a major role in French cultural scene and particularly in the field of Cinema for he was the protégé of François Truffaut whome he befriended and with whome he helped create the now prestigious and incisive film magazine Les Cahiers du Cinéma that spearheaded the French Nouvelle Vague or New Wave Cinema. He was also to work closely with Italian filmmaker Roberto Rossilini on several film scripts during that era. Fereydoun Hoveyda was not the only Iranian of his generation to play an active role in promoting the French Cinéma d'Auteur as opposed to the more popular American Cinema defended by another Iranian film critic Cyrus Ghani (Author of the recently published My favorite films ).
Three of the most respected film critics of contemporary Cinema, Jean Claude Carrière (Center) married to an Iranian worked with Peter Brooks in the 70's, Youssef Ishaghpour (left) and Cyrus Ghani (right) all continue to contribute to Les Cahiers du Cinéma.
Youssef Ishaghpour born in Tehran in 1940 lives in Paris since 1958. He studied Cinema at l'École Louis Lumière and l'IDHEC) and has written extensively on Films and the Nouvelle Vague pioneers which he befriended and followed the works. He has since become a respected specialist of the director/actor of Citizen Kane with a prized anthology on the Legendary Orson Welles who shot several of his films in Paris such as the famous adaptation of Kafka's Trial with Truffaut's égérie Jeanne Moreau and one of Hitchcock's favorite actors Anthony Perkins (Psycho). In later years, thanks to connections with Iranians producers in Paris, Welles was to produce several films unfortunately not always to his best advantage. Welles never got to edit in its definitive version his last testimonial film The other Side of the Wind , shot over a periode of ten years. The whereabouts of most of the rushes remains a mystery and seem to have been lost after the Islamic Revolution of 1979.
Iranian students in the Paris of the 1950's and 1960's were either divided politically between leftist, nationalists or royalists or seeking new ideals. Most were studying Engineering or Medicine for whom politics was mostly a passtime, except for future diplomats and or future revolutionaries. Often fiancé to fellow French girlfriends or boyfriends, Iranian students loved spending time in the Parisian Café des Flores or Des Deux Magots at Saint Germain Des Près, often bumping into celebrities and sharing the intellectual preoccupations of the existentialist poets and philosophers of post WW II France. Such was the case of Shusha Guppy Singer (Listen to songs ) , writer and future filmmaker . A friend of Jacques Prévert , she recalls with humour and nostalgia in her autobiography A Girl in Paris how she refused a galant rendez-vous with the handsom Albert Camus but was seduced by Sydney Bechet. She was hired to sing at L'Ecluse before the legendary Barbara. Preferring the writings of Albert Cossery to those of the American Paris Lover and controversial author of Jours tranquilles à Clichy Henry Miller, which she reduces to: quote « verbal constipation, obscenities, sexist and pompous ». She confesses that she was leftist like everyone at the time. Guppy was to evoke her childhood souvenirs in Iran with nostalgia in another critically acclaimed book The Blindfold Horse: Memories of a Persian childhood. Her tendency of being called Persian and not Iranian are at times irritating as if there is a real difference to this assessment? Her style however does hint a resemblance to those of Russian writer Tchekhov. In many ways the description of her generation, is touching and revealing on the one that was divided between Western and Oriental values but wished to contribute to the enhancement and progress of their country while searching intellectual and social fulfilment in Western philosophy and cultural emancipation.
Prolific singer, writer and filmmaker Shusha Guppy was to befriend some of the greatest French artists and thinkers of the Saint Germain years of the 1950's such as Yves Montand, Simone Signoret, Juliette Greco, Jean Marais, Boris Vian or philosophers Jean Paul Sartre and Simone De Beauvoir or Camus. ©photo composition Darius Kadivar
Later settled in Great Britain another favorite destination for Anglophone students, Guppy was to show interest in films and upon returning to Iran in the 70's was to produce a film on the yearly migration of Bakhtiary Tribesmen in Iran. The film was to be nominated as best documentary for the Oscars of 1976. A tribute to the 1925 Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack's (creators of classic film King Kong) first documentary on the subject called Grass : A Nations Battle for Life.
During the Saint Gérmain years, rising French Star Daniel Gélin was also to befriend Iranians amongst which the Shah's twin Sister Princess Ashraf. Ironically Gélin was to play the role of the Shah years later in a French Canadian co-production on the Hostage crisis of 1979.
Right : actor Daniel Gélin (he played in Hitchcock's film The Man who new too much ) befriended Princess Ashraf the Shah's twin sister (seen here with second husband Ahmed Shafig). Years later, Gélin was to portray her brother the Shah in the French Canadian 1991 film L'Amérique en Otage .
However the most interesting and significative contribution to the French New Wave cinema is that of Serge Rezvani an Iranian poet born in Tehran in 1928 to an Iranian Father and Russian Mother. Today he has become an acknowledged French writer, painter and Art critic. He was to play a major role as music composer of both François Truffaut Jules et Jim and Jean Luc Godard Pierrot le Fou, considered as land marks of French New Wave Cinema. He is credited as Cyrus Bassiak for he was not sure to want to undertake a music carreer.
Jeanne Moreau was to immortalize Truffaut's film with her interpretation of Le Tourbillon , which became such a hit forcing Rezvani to continue a parallel carreer as songwriter for several years. Amusingly Truffaut made him play the cameo role of a musician in Jules et Jim.
Cyrus Bassiak aka Serge Rezvani (guitar) wrote the music and lyrics for Godard's Perrot Le Fou and Truffauts Jules et Jim . In Truffaut's film Rezvani does a cameo performance with Jeanne Moreau (below right). ©photo composition Darius Kadivar
Truffaut was to say about his film « If the film is a success, It is because it resembles the book that inspired it and therefore is a tribute to Love, maybe even a tribute to Life »
To this day it certainly remains Truffaut's most appreciated movie.
The Iranian Queen's lives and fate were also to have their share of influence on the Arts in France.
Princess Soraya 's divorce form Mohammad Reza Shah in the 1950's inspired French writer Françoise Mallet-Jorris to write this poem, which was then adapted as lyrics to the song " I want to Cry like Soraya " by singer Marie Paule Belle ©photo composition Darius Kadivar
Soraya Bakhtiary Esfandiary the Shah's second wife was to make headlines as the Princess with Sad Eyes after her divorce for failing to give a heir to the Peacock Throne. The tragic destiny of Soraya (who was also to attempt a short-lived film career) was to inspire a poem to French writer Françoise Mallet Joris as Je veux pleurer comme Soraya that was later put into music by Marie Paul Belle in the 1970's.
In 1959 a shy and unknown Art student Farah Diba was to be noticed at the Iranian Embassy in Paris by the Shah of Iran who had recently divorced from Soraya. The future Queen who was studying at the Beaux Arts became the focus of attention and the French Press was to see her as the new Persian Cinderella. Christian Dior and Yves Saint Laurent were chosen to dress the new Queen for her marriage and later her coronation in 1967.
Left : Catherine Deneuve François Truffaut égérie poses for Yves Saint Laurent in front of photo of 1967 Coronation in Iran. ©YSL Right Shahs new Fiancé Farah Diba leaves Christian Dior in Paris 1959 ©Paris Match. Insert Farah Art student in Paris © My Thousand and One Days first edition biographie.
The Empress' Art studies in Paris were determinant in her intense activities in the field of Arts (See Empress of the Arts )such as creating the Kanoon Va Parvaresh Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children, the film department of which was to discover future film talents as the then unknown Abbas Kiarostami, she was also to create the Shiraz International Arts Festival which hosted the works of Choreographer Maurice Béjart .
Empress Farah was also to become one of the rare foreign dignitaries to become a permanent member of the French Academie des Beaux Arts . A position that during her reign encouraged French Arts and particularly French Films to be showcased in Iran and allowed several French co-production such as Jacques Perrin's Le Desert des Tartars aka The Tartars Desert to be shot in Bam in the Mid 70's.
I was lucky to meet actor and director Robert Hossein a few years ago in Paris with his friend and colleague director Roman Polanski. The son of Hossein the late Russian-Iranian composer Aminollah (André) Hossein told me that his father had converted to Zoroastrianism and had found some inner peace and serenity in this faith. His father composed several symphonies among them, "Persian Miniature", "I Love My Country", "Symphony Persepolis" and "Scheherezade" (Shahrzad), which was choreographed by George Skibine, one of Diaghilev's dancers . Some of this music was recently used to showcase the British Museum exhibition Forgotten Empire and the DVD of the event narrated by actor Omid Djalilli
Son of Persian music composer André Aminollah Hossein, Robert Hossein was to gain fame as Jeoffrey de Peyrac the only true love of Angélique Marquise of France (Michèle Mercier). André Hossein was to compose the music of many of his son's films. ©Nostalge Robert Hossein
Born in Paris on December 30th 1927, Robert Hosseinov (he changed his name subsequently to Hossein ) started his acting carreer with his French Armenian friend Chahnour Varinag Aznavourian ( better known as the famed crooner Charles Aznavour) in the mid fifties essentially type casted as " Mr. Tough Guy ". However he attained international fame in the early Sixties particularily in Europe, Russia and Asia as the mysterious " Jeoffrey, Comte de Peyrac " lover of the lovely Michèle Mercier in the soft erotic-adventure film series of Angélique Marquise des Anges . In the seventies and eighties he was to play opposite Jean Paul Belmondo in police thrillers like The Professional . Hossein became particularily known for being a talented theater director and his taste for popular historical vehicles involving large sets and numerous actors. He continues to be active and is to deliver a much-expected spectacle Ben Hur this year at the Stade de France (See Ben Hur ) . He also paid a rare tribute to his own father Aminollah in his autobiography Nostalge who composed many of the music scores of his movies, some of which include Franco-Italian Western Spaghettis.
The political upheaval of May 1968 that failed to overthrow President Charles De Gaulle and the French institutions was yet to have a deep cultural impact and particularly in films. The French New Wave pioneers had already expressed their solidarity with the Workers mouvement during the Cannes Film festival , which they virtually paralysed. However Truffaut, and Goddard were by then joined by newcomers such as Claude Lelouche, Alain Robbe-Grillet, or Claude Berri. The sexual content in films were to become more explicit and graphically detailed as opposed to most conventional films and particularly Hollywood productions. Amongst the égeries of this era, Anicée Shahmanesh became known as the only sex bomb to rival Brigitte Bardot or Claudia Cardinal. She reached stardom under the screen name Anicée Alvina, playing a French girl in a British film hit called Friends , the music score of which propelled British Pop Star Elton John. A story on two young lovers who decide to bring up their baby against social prejudices and conventions the film became emblematic for a whole generation. The film was followed by a sequel under the title Paul and Michelle with equal success bringing the attention of French directors on the new French Star. It was under the direction of Alain Robbe-Grillet that Anicée was to become the new sex icon of the 70's in such films as Glissements Progressifs du Désir or Le Jeu avec le Feu which unfortunately typecast her in one dimensional role's taking advantage of her undeniable physical beauty but which subsequently hurt her carreer. She was also to take on a courageous Lesbian role in the screen adaptation of Françoise Mallet-Joris' novel Le Rempart des Béguines .
égérie of nouveau roman author/director Alain Robbe-Grillet, actress Anicée Shahmanesh better known as Anicéé Alvina was to play a major part as France's post 68 sexual revolution icon. ©photo composition Darius Kadivar
She also played opposite Hollywood Star Robert Stack in the directorial début of Claude Chabrol's emblematic actor Gérard Blain ( Le beau Serge ) with Un Second Souffle in what seemed like a title tribute to Goddard's A Bout de Souffle aka Breathless .
Two major documentaries were produced in these post-68 years by respectively Agnès Varda and the duo Claude Lelouche-Claude Pinoteau.
Agnès Varda who first to revealed young actor Gérard Depardieu in her 1970 film Nausicaa , was to direct a love story set in Isfahan between a French women (Valérie Mairesse) visiting Iran as a tourist and her guide an Iranian Man (Ali Raffi). The film was entitled Plaisir D'Amour en Iran. The romantic film was shot on location in The Masjed Shah in 1976.
Agnès Varda a precursor to stylistic devices later used by France's New Wave directors was to film in Isfahan her 1976 love story Plaisir d'Amour en Iran with Ali Raffi and Valérie Mairesse. ©photo composition Darius KADIVAR
Claude Pinoteau and Claude Lelouche on the other hand were to shoot their documentary shortly after the Persepolis Celebrations in 1971. They decided to focus on the urban transformations and cultural emancipation that the country was subject to by the early seventies.
In the early 70's Claude Pinoteau ( La Boum ) and Claude Lelouche ( Un homme et Une Femme ) (© Photo Alain Guillemaud, Collection Institut Lumière) made a short called l'Iran which earned the 1st Prize of the International Festival of Tarbes ©Photo Alain Guillemaud, Collection Institut Lumière
The documentary was to win the first Prize of the International Festival of Tarbes in 1971.
Yasmina Reza's Art has been an International success in recent years. Like Robert Hossein she is born to an Iranian father and Russian mother.
Several Iranian expats such as Philippe Khorsand or Persian-Russian play writer /actor Yasmina Reza have also gained notice in recent years. The latter is particularly known for her highly intellectual introspections in such plays like Art (Sean Connery bought the film rights advised by his French wife). Her latest play Conversations après un enterrement is currently being played in Paris at the Théatre Antoine. As for Khorsand he has been playing for the past 30 years in films opposite confirmed French Star's like Jean Paul Belmondo or Chrisitian Clavier. He has however gained fame for his commercials and TV appearances in the series Une Famille Formidable at the theatre or in film opposite Bernard LeCoq and Annie Duperey.
Missed oppurtunity? Juliette Binoche has often expressed interest in working with Iran's New Wave maestro. She was to interview him for a documentary on the art of filmmaking.
In recent years Iranian Cinema has gained global recognition particularly ever since Abbas Kiarostami won the Palm d'Or and Samira Makhmalbaf (, daughter of Mohsen) was to twice win the Cannes Prize of the Jury in 2000 for Blackboards and again in 2003 with Five in the Afternoon. Interestingly the terminology New Wave is justly applied to a trend initiated by the two kings of Iranian Cinéma (***) : Abbas Kiarostami and Mohsen Makhmalbaf. It is not surprising for in many ways Iranian Cinema has taken inspiration in the French New Wave particularly in its misleading realistic approach and the use of both professional and non professional actors on location. It is interesting to see Kiarostami's first films like Mosafer aka the Traveller and see that he directs Hassan Darabi very much in the same way Truffaut directs the young Jean Pierre Léaud in Les 400 Coups aka The 400 Blows .
Recognition of Iran's New Wave Cinema: Cannes Film Festival awarded the Palm D'or to Abbas Kiarostami in 1997, he has since been rewarded at numerous festivals and International institutions. (Center) Gérard Depardieu revealed by Agnès Varda in her 1970 film Nausicaa poses with Samira Makhmalbaf the youngest Laureat in Cannes Festival film History and daughter of the other Iranian New Wave maestro director of Kandahar Mohsen Makhmalbaf (above with star Niloofar PAZIRA ) ©photo composition Darius KADIVAR
Beyond American directors such as Quentin Tarantino or Martin Scorsese who have expressed their admiration for the Palm d'Or Laureate of The Taste of the Cherry , French Star Juliette Binoche expressed her deep interest in working with Kiarostami whom she admires. Interestingly for a recent documentary on French actress', which Binoche initiated and entitled French Beauty , the French Star was to interview Kiarostami on the Art of filmmaking. Unfortunately the interview was not done due to the tight agendas of the two artists. However interestingly the documentary in question ends with a famous scene from the François Truffaut film Jules et Jim where Serge Rezvani (mentioned above) aka Cyrus Bassiak accompanies Jeanne Moreau with the Tourbillon song.
Could this hint that the Love Story between the French and Iranian New Wave pioneers, which started more than half a century ago with Les Cahiers Du Cinéma , awaits a new chapter in the years to come?
Lets hope so …
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(*) One of the famous quote's on films by Truffaut: There are films that make you love life
(**) How is one a Persian?
(***) The term two kings was first used in the Iranian Press in 1998 to describe the two Iranian film maestros. It is in no way a political statement on behalf of the author nor intended so.
Recommended Reading 1: Although at odds with Hollywood as an Industry, Truffaut greatly admired and understood the Hollywood touch. He was to publish his now famous Hitchcock-Truffaut , an in depth interview and analysis film by film of the Thriller Master. He was also cast by Steven Spielberg in Close Encounters of the Third Kind as Claude Lacombe the French UFO specialist.
Recommended Reading 2: Samira Makhmalbaf's article The Digital Revolution and The Future Cinema