Directed by Mohsen Makhmalbaf
Tuesday, August 14, and Tuesday, August 28, at the Spectacle.
At present, 1996's Gabbeh exists in the middle of director Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s filmography, but since time in and around Makhmalbaf’s work stretches in ways redolent of theoretical physics, it’s easiest at first to consider Gabbeh alone. And so she is—the eponymous heroine appears crying by a stream, telling the story of her woe to an elderly couple who have come to wash their gabbeh, a traditional handwoven carpet of the nomadic Qashqai people of Iran. With wrinkled faces mapping decades of routes, the couple hear a familiar folktale: Gabbeh’s suitor follows her clan on horseback, wolf-howling with want from afar, but her father forbids marriage until her uncle is wed, until her mother gives birth, and so on, a new condition replacing each that is met. Gabbeh’s story resonates with the couple not just because her unfurling landscapes are theirs or because her sequined, bright clothes are—heyyy!—identical to the old woman’s, but because the girl voices the craft. The colors of scenes in Gabbeh's story weave smoothly into the patterns of the carpet, dyed (in a sanguine splatter of water and wool, echoing Paradjanov) with the flowers of the surrounding fields.
Gabbeh exists because Gabbeh exists because gabbeh exists, and the act of storytelling to renew and retain ourselves is Makhmalbaf’s focus here, along with a crucial vibrancy: “life is color, love is color,” the whimsical uncle instructs an invisible classroom, pulling the hues of the sky and the stream literally into his skin. Elsewhere, in Makhmalbaf’s timeline, a teenage fundamentalist, appalled that his grandmother went to the movies, stabbed a policeman, was tortured & imprisoned, and eventually began making films, the first of which told the story of a young political prisoner; a later one, of a girl named for a rug, with a suitor she couldn’t marry. And so on, and so on.