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SCREENING ROOM

Films movingly portray life in Iran

February 13, 2003|Kevin Thomas | Times Staff Writer

The UCLA Film Archives' 13th annual Celebration of Iranian Cinema, ever an essential event, continues at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Melnitz Hall's James Bridges Theater with Nasser Refaie's "The Exam."

It's a provocative example of how much incident and insight can be generated from the simplest situation unfolding in real time, in this instance the 80 minutes between the time the gates of a Tehran university are opened and closed. During those minutes, scores of young women arrive to wait to take the examination that they must pass before proceeding with a university education.

All manner of revealing incidents occur. The irate father who objects to a group of youths hanging around ogling the young woman; the equally irate husband who is arrested after protesting that his wife is taking the exam against his wishes, etc.

Refaie observes a wide range of emotional temperaments, but his point is clear enough: In a situation in which only about a third of the applicants will pass, a university education can be all but a life-or-death issue in a society in which women have so few rights.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday February 14, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 6 inches; 243 words Type of Material: Correction
Film screening -- The Screening Room column in Thursday's Calendar Weekend mistakenly reported that the film "I'm Taraneh, 15" was screening Thursday night at UCLA. It screens Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

Following "The Exam" is Rasul Sadr-Ameli's "I'm Taraneh, 15," a winning portrait of a bright, upbeat teenager (exquisite, talented Taraneh Aldoosti). She decides that marriage to a handsome youth of solid family is a sensible move, only to discover that he's hopelessly immature -- and that she is pregnant.

Against all odds, Taraneh struggles to take care of herself and her child, for whom she is determined to get proper government identification papers.

Bahman Farmanara's stylish, contemplative "A House Built on Water" (7 p.m. Sunday) continues the filmmaker's triumphant comeback that began with last year's deeply personal "Smell of Camphor, Fragrance of Jasmine."

His central figure is a hugely successful Tehran gynecologist (Reza Kianian), a hard-working and hard-living, lonely and unfeeling man who is overcome by such a malaise that his spiritual longing takes on both suspense thriller and mystical dimensions.

The doctor represents the failure of his generation, leaving the next without hope, and this ambitious, highly accomplished film suggests how the unequal status of men and women harms men as well.

In an instance of saving the best for the last, Alireza Raisian's "The Deserted Station," which follows "A House Built on Water," is pure enchantment, an encounter between city and countryside worthy of Jean Renoir -- or Abbas Kiarostami, who, in fact, provided the story upon which the film is based.

A young Tehran couple (Leila Hatami, Nezam Manouchehri) on their way to the holy city of Mashad find their car abruptly breaking down not far from an ancient village. While the village schoolteacher (Mehran Rajabi), a skilled mechanic, comes to their aid, the wife, who has been a teacher herself, takes over his classroom for the day.

She experiences an ancient way of life that becomes a celebration of the traditional values of Persian hospitality and kindness to strangers, and an uncomplaining acceptance of hardship and poverty. The film builds to an extraordinary epiphany for the woman, and for the children, no more likely to forget her than she is to forget them. Subtle, elegiac and profoundly moving. The Iranian series resumes Feb. 28.

*

Screenings

"The Exam" and "I'm Taraneh, 15": 7:30 p.m. today, James Bridges Theatre, Melnitz Hall, UCLA, Westwood, (310) 206-8588

"A House Built on Water" and "The Deserted Station": 7 p.m. Sunday, James Bridges Theatre, (310) 206-8588.

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