White Balloon

Daily Journal of Mahaan, an Iranian-American student residing in USA.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

2 Movies

After some weeks, finally this weekend got a chance to watch two good movies:

Ten (Abbas Kiarostami, Iran, 2002)

I always respect Kiarostami for his early works (before 1989) about children and also 2 other works: Close up and Life & Nothing More. I should also add several of his screenplays that have been filmed by other people. But I never enjoyed any of the movies that he made between 1992 and 2002. Actually these movies were the one which brought him world class fame and many prestigious prizes like the Golden Palm of the Cannes. But I always respect his independent view and continuous search for presenting an alternative view about realities in life. And in his recent work (Ten), I once again enjoyed his skills in creating an alternative narrative of daily life.

Ten which is in 10 episodes, is story couple of women in Tehran from different class levels of the society. It pictures complexities of the middle class life in a society which is going through the battle of tradition and modernism and to some extent presents the strength and weaknesses of each side in dealing with complications of life. Like most of his movies, Kiarostami is able to catch a great performance from all of the actresses. His attempt to keep the plot completely inside a car works great and the movies keeps the audience focused till end. The DVD release of the film includes a long documentary about the production of Ten which is an interesting interview with Kiarostami about his cinema. One interesting point that he mentioned was the advantages that he's been able to gain from the Digital cinematography in removing many of the formal barriers between the documentary subject and camera. That has helped him a lot to catch a great performance from non-professional actors and regular people who act in his films.

Sea Inside-Mar adentro (Alejandro AmenĂ¡bar, Spain, 2004)

Sea Inside has a very strong story line filled with the concepts of death and life. The movie is about a man who is paralyzed and wants to legally end his life after 28 years of bearing with his slow paced life. For him the ideal is death and he works hard to convince a range people from his traditional brother to state level politician about that life is a choice for a human. Although the movie touches the political debates of the church and prolife-prochoice discussions, but distances itself from being a tribune for social and political discussions. The irony and beauty of this film is that the story is about death, but the film is so much filled about the beauty of life and the way that human make it a complex phenomena. The actings are superb. Specially Javier Bardem with his unique smile which presents his internal pain. The movie has couple of masterpiece sequences that truly shocked me. Probably the most amazing one was the scene that we see how the main character is paralyzed. I had previously seen "Open your eyes" from AmenĂ¡bar which was a creative and unique work on some metaphysical ideas, but left me with headache and lot of confusions. But "See Inside" left me with tears, not because of sadness of a death, but because of a beautiful picture about love and life.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Presidential Election in Iran (2)

Many Iranians say we want democracy for our country and they believe that it can be achieved through quick social changes like the way that the revolution happened in 1979.
People like Mr. Khatami believe that democracy is a gradual process rather than a political movement. In his mind, Khatami probably does not see a democratic Iran in his own life time. I personally agree with Mr. Khatami about the fact that our move towards democracy (similar to the western's move) is a gradual move. Generally speaking I agree with Khatami and I respect his vision (not his action) to large extent. I might say this because I don't live in Iran and I can talk based on my idealism while my own life luckily is filled with opportunities and daily forward movements. But what about that 20 years old Iranian student who sees minimal opportunity for jump both intellectually and financially for himself in Iran?! Is it fair to tell him, dream for another 200 years that we have the rule of law in this country and then things will be in order? Let's not forget that he's going to live only once. How much can he take my lecture about gradual change from the cultural roots of the society! You might say why should he care this much about social and political development of his society? Why should he care this much about democracy and rule of law in his country? In reply, I say: because politics is completely merged with daily life in Iran. If you live in Iran, politics truly touches your life. For example, whenever the political battles within the establishment heats up, you suddenly see new series of crack downs by the moral police on the streets. Today the leader changes the head of police, tomorrow they might not let you in your local police office because of wearing short sleeves shirts. The day after tomorrow they might change half of the traffic patterns of the city with no academic consultation. Every government shake up might result in overnight radical changes in economic policies which affects your investments, your life and future. Another example: Couple of years ago, in an overnight move by the new mayor of Tehran, the city hall stopped publishing construction permits to people. In a week, the price of houses went 50% up in the capital and it took about 1 year that they restarted giving construction permits. At the end it never became clear why they banned it for that period. God knows how much certain people made money from this over night price hike. Just imagine %50 jump in real estate cost! What an effect it can have on the middle class of the country! In such a messed up setup, your minutes depends on the politics. That's the reason that we Iranians are this much obsessed with politics, because we deeply felt its importance in our life. And that's the reason that our 20 years old student should care a lot about the politics of his country.

I said all this long blurb to just mention how difficult is to convince the young people of Iran, to stick to a long term vision of reform for the country. After 8 years of preaching for gradual reforms with very minimum achievements, is Mr. Khatami and his reformist camp able to once again attract these tired young people? At this point I doubt it! Unless they start at least talking about more radical shake up of the establishment.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Presidential Election in Iran

The discussions about the upcoming presidential election in Iran is warming up in Iranian (Farsi) Blogs. Apparently for now, US is silent about Iran till the election results are clear. It is not really clear which one is going to be the main factor for US policy after the election: The elected president, or the election turn out?

The main discussion about Iranian youth on the blogs is that should we stick with the policy of picking the bad option (vs. a worse) option and vote againt for a reformist candidate who seem to be at best an quivalent of Mr. Khatami. Or should we stick to the policy of boycotting the election like the recent parliamentary election where about 30% took part and resulted in formation of the most backward and destructive parliament since the 1979 revolution. There are many other issues that come at the middle of these discussions. For example, there is a large chance that the reformist candidate does not even pass the Guardian Council's filter of qualification. Or even if he does, the transparency of the election and fraud prevention is not guaranteed. One problem that historically exist in Iranian elections (both before and after the revolution) is the the fact that people's participation in the election is shown as a measure of general approval for the regime and establishment. Even if people go and vote for the disqualified opposition or vote white, the regime and the media look at the turn out in a different way. The combination of all these factors plus more , makes many Iranian youths sensitive about the choice of voting this time. We still have quite a bit of time to decide. And generally Iranians are the last minute nation. At this point I try to listen and critique different groups of people in these discussion and reflect them here for you.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Ban on a parlimentary reporter in Iran

Apparently there is not a limit to the shame and disgrace of the so-called Parliament in Iran. Bunch of hooligans who have been selected (not elected) as MPs last year, have baned a female reporter who has worked as one of most active and professional reporters in Iran. Although this incident is not that important comparing with other series of embarrassments that this conservative Parliament has been creating, but symbolically it is an indicative that how much of a loser these guys are. Conservative MPs have booed this reporter several times. Even once one of the conservative MPs almost hit her at the middle of hall way when she challenged him with a question. BBC has a short story (but not complete) story on this. The incident has been the topic of discussions on many Farsi blogs.

Monday, April 04, 2005


Just came back from a 1.5 day trip to Washington DC which was mainly to see a friend. It was good to be far from the regular work plan, Internet, cooking and regular food plan, etc. even for such a short period. It was short, but filled with great chats, great music and amazing scenes of the nature, specially the sun-set scenes that are amazing these days of the year (if the sky is not very cloudy).

Trip usually has an incredible unique influence on me. At this stage of my life, I have found the best moments of thinking and self-reorganization while I travel and talk with people that are not usually around me. In spite of all the communication advancement, I gain a totally different exposure of people's life when I go and visit them personally and chat with them about all sorts of random things outside the phone call and Internet framework. Internet and in general this massive networks of communications, usually give me a glimpse of information about people's work, thoughts and life. Some time, the continuous flow of information (the information overload) makes me lost and frustrated with the question that: Where am I in this huge flow of information? What am I doing and where am I going? This frustration and question is usually unanswered because of the daily busy schedule and the ongoing flow of career life. Many times I calm down with a chat with my dear friend, listening to a piece of beautiful music or watching a movie, but as the flow continuous everyday, it become really frustrating. And that's when a trip (even a short one like this DC one) is a perfect solution. It's a great time to think, listen and chat and reorganize myself and then go back and start with a new energy. At least with my vision about life, one of my main wishes and source of motivations, is the ability to travel and visit new places and new people and learn about their life experience.

I really suggest that you make a trip (even very short with limited budget), whenever you're stressed, stuck and frustrated with whatever in your local life.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Terry Schiavo

She died! A tragic fortune for her and her family!
I can not judge and take side about her case because my knowledge about the medical aspects of it is almost nothing. But I can understand both sides of the relatives who were involved in this case (the husband vs. parents). But I could never understand the whole circus that the media and conservatives made out of this personal case! All these protests and cries, when things are so much upside down in the political atmosphere of this country!

Of course the president sent his condolences message right away. And it won't be surprising to see him attending her funeral to show how much he cares about the culture of life. But we should never expect him to attend funeral of one of the hundreds of soldiers who have died in Iraq. Or we should not become surprised to see him silent for days after the most terrible disaster of our time (Tsunami). Why he should give a damn when a kid kills a handful of people in his community before shooting himself?! Or is it important at all that kids are starving in Iraq worse than Sadam's time? What matters is not the culture of life, it is the culture of lie!!

Since the start, it was clear that Bush and generally Republicans needed the Schiavo's case to reach to their conservative voters in the population. But their estimation was totally wrong and apparently they were not able to change things in the courts. And I guess the conservative communities are quite pissed at Bush Inc. for a while. But on the other side this whole case might help the right wing propaganda machine to picture the current court system as "too much liberal" and push for a more conservative judiciary.
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