This year San Francisco Film Society‘s International Film Festival held in April – May 2012 featured a number of Iranian films. One interesting film was Chicken with Plums by the Paris-based Iranian author and director Marjane Satrapi, co-directed by Vincent Paronnaud. This film (which I think is more French than Iranian) as well as other works by Satrapi deserve their own discussion and I hope to cover some of that in another time.

I want to dedicate this piece to a delightful new Iranian film, A Cube of Sugar, produced and directed by Reza Mirkarimi. It’s a visual, colorful and uplifting film that I enjoyed. The film is the story of a big family that comes together for the upcoming wedding of their youngest daughter, Pasandide (played by Negar Javaherian), who is to marry a man over the internet as he lives in USA. She seems content and excited at the prospects of her new life abroad.

Pasandide’s older sisters have come home with their husbands and children to celebrate the happy occasion and help their mother and the bride prepare for the big day, that is just a couple of days away.

The ladies are busy with cooking, sewing, gossiping and enjoying the reunion. The men in turn have their own conversations including whether they’re really happy with their wives, the teenagers wired up with technology and tuned out, deal with their adolescence issues and crushes, and children run around and play in the yard and contemplate the existence of ghosts in the corners of the big yard.

The film is set in a traditional large house with a courtyard, a pond and a garden with fruit trees, in or near Yazd, a city in central Iran surrounded by a vast desert. The house belong to Uncle Ezzatolah (played by Saeed Poursamimi), the aging and bitter head of family. Other than his attitude, everyone else seems to be happy and content.

The mood is generally happy. There are no signs of trouble other than one of the in-laws getting news from his doctor that he may have a serious illness, another man has just been released from the jail (for unknown reasons), and there are occasional power failures in the old house. Absence of Ghasem, a young relative who’s serving in the army and appears to have been a romantic interest for the bride-to-be, seems to be a concern. But eventually he also shows up.

Things overall seem to be going well…that is until a tragedy of sorts strikes and turns things upside down. But despite the disruption in the wedding plans it seems that the change may be for good reasons after all. To avoid spoilers, I’ll leave it at that.

Unlike most Iranian films, A Cube of Sugar is a happy film. And that makes it unique and different. A friend actually noted this as an issue saying where has the director been all these years? Given the situation in Iran, I understand this objection. But I think the film works and can be realistic. A family in rural Iran gathering for a wedding and celebrating for a couple of days is nothing out of the ordinary.

During the screening in San Francisco, the director Reza Mirkarimi was present in person. I had the chance to help him with translation during the Q&A session after the first screening and talk to him a bit afterwards.

The house in the film where most of the film takes place, is not a real house and he had it staged in great detail specifically for the film. Unlike some Iranian films where directors use non-professional actors and may include unscripted segments in the film, Mirkarimi carefully cast this film and scripted it in great detail. He even shot some of the scenes with backup actors before the final shoots. There are a number of big Iranian cinema, TV and theater actors in the film such as Reza Kianian and Saeed Poursamimi. A Cube of Sugar is also blessed with a great original score composed by Mohammad Reza Aligholi. The film is in Persian (with English subtitles). However, certain character speak with local (Yazdi) accent which for some might make it a bit hard to understand.

Noting the influences of the cinema greats such as Federico Fellini and Akira Kurosawa in his work, Mirkarimi said that his film is more about a space than an event. A Cube of Sugar is Reza Mirkarimi’s sixth feature film. He’s received a number of awards for his previous films in various film festivals:

  • Critics Week Grand Prize at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival for Under the Moonlight
  • Six awards (including Best Film of the Year) at the 2005 Fajr International Film Festival for So Close, So Far
  • Golden St. George at the 2008 Moscow International Film Festival for As Simple As That

You can learn more about Mikarimi and his films at his official website.

A Cube of Sugar got distribution and has been screened in LA and a few other cities in US. It was also on the big screen in Iran. If you get a chance go see the film and let me know what you thought of it.

Connection to Sohrab Sepehri

In a romanticized scene as Pasandide is on a swing in the yard, she reaches and picks an apple from a tree and bites into it. This reminded me of a line from the beloved Iranian modern poet, Sohrab Sepheri:

زندگانی سیبی است، گاز باید زد با پوست

“Life is an apple, you must bite with skin on”

I shared this with Mirkarimi. He said that in fact there is another poem by Sohrab that is even more inline with the film and its name, which he said his daughter has named. You can hear the poem in the opening of the above clip. I’ve also included here in both English and Persian.

زندگی جیره مختصری است
مثل یک فنجان چای
و کنارش عشق است
مثل یک حبهی قند

“Life is a small bit

like a cup of tea

and love is right next to it

like a cube of sugar”