September 30, 2020
Mohammad Reza Aslani’s gothic family thriller was banned in Iran and presumed lost, only to be found years later by his children in a junk shop. Now, painstakingly restored, it’s showing at the BFI London film festival
Audiences won’t have seen anything like this: how Iranian film Chess of the Wind was reborn
The rediscovery of a film is seldom as fascinating a story as the film itself, but that’s the case with Chess of the Wind (Shatranj-e Baad), directed by Iranian film-maker Mohammad Reza Aslani. It was only screened twice in Tehran in 1976, once to a cinema of hostile critics, and then to an empty cinema – the bad reviews had done their work. “The rediscovery of this film is great for me,” says Aslani, now aged 76, and still living in Tehran. “But it also allows audiences to view Iranian cinema from another perspective, and to discover other auteur film-makers who have been marginalised because of the complexity of their films.”
Critical of the Shah’s royalist government, the film also featured strong female leads and homosexuality, which didn’t endear it to the Ayatollah Khomeini’s regime either. In the politically tumultuous years that followed the Iranian revolution of 1979, the film was banned, and then presumed lost. “Critics in Iran at the time of its release claimed the film didn’t make sense, that my father was just trying to make an intellectual film, to imitate European cinema,” says the director’s daughter, Gita Aslani Shahrestani. But Aslani Shahrestani was determined not to let her father’s legacy languish. A writer and academic based in Paris, she was uniquely suited to the task. “About seven years ago I was working on my PhD about auteur cinema in Iran, and this film was part of it, so I started to look for the film.”
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