October 17, 2023

Remembering Dariush Mehrjui: Iconic Iranian Filmmaker’s Legacy and Tragic End

Dariush Mehrjui, one of Iran’s most prominent film directors and screenwriters, was tragically murdered in his own home along with his wife, Vahideh Mohammadi-Far. Mehrjui was the creative force behind several of Iran’s most renowned films, both before and after the revolution, capturing the hearts of multiple Iranian generations. According to Iranian media, the Alborz Province police discovered Mehrjui’s lifeless body in his home along with that of his wife and co-writer, Mohammadi-Far, early on Sunday, November 15th. The news of this horrific murder has sent shockwaves of grief and sorrow throughout Iran, especially among filmmakers and cinema enthusiasts.

Born in Tehran in 1939, Mehruji earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the University of Southern California. In 1967, he made his film debut with “Diamond 33.” Despite its failure at the box office and lack of critical acclaim, the film marked the beginning of an illustrious film career. 

Mehrjui’s second film was based on a story by the late Iranian playwright and writer Gholamhossein Sa’edi. “The Cow” is the story of Masht Hassan, a rural man whose sole source of happiness is his beloved milking cow. Hassan’s attachment to the cow is not an ordinary affection, but a profound and obsessive one. This man talks to the cow, feeds the cow himself, bathes it in the river, and, ultimately, revolves his entire existence around this animal. As Masht Hassan is traveling to the city, a tragic incident occurs when the cow dies without apparent reason. His belief that the cow has been stolen triggers a slow descent into madness. Gradually, Hassan’s behavior begins to exhibit signs of insanity. He begins to identify himself as a cow, eating grass and mooing. A poignant and startling ending concludes the film, which depicts the fate of a once-happy man who has become shackled by his own illusions. “The Cow” has not only participated in prestigious international film festivals such as Cannes, Berlin, Los Angeles, and Moscow, but has also been awarded the FIPRESCI Prize at the Venice Film Festival, establishing Dariush Mehrjui’s name among world-renowned directors such as Akira Kurosawa and Satyajit Ray.

Ali Nasirian played the role of Mr. Naive in his next film, “Mr. Naive,” released in 1970. The story is about a kind but simple-minded man from the countryside who arrives in Tehran to conduct business but falls in love with a notorious woman named Mehri, played by Fakhri Khorvash. Khorvash and Nasirian’s performances in this film further demonstrated Mehrjui’s gifted directing skills.

Mehrjui starred in his third film, “The Postman.” It tells the story of Taqi, a wealthy but impotent man who is suffering from sexual dysfunction and cannot consummate his marriage to his young and beautiful wife. Taqi’s nephew, engineer Ali Akbar Khan, arrives and plunges the family into crisis. At the Berlin International Film Festival, “The Postman” won the Interfilm Award.

Mehrjui’s next film, “The Cycle,” was based on a short story by Gholamhossein Sa’edi and deals with the issue of blood trafficking in Iranian hospitals. The film received numerous awards at prestigious international film festivals despite initially facing censorship and being banned from screening for three years. A significant and vital development for Iranian society was the establishment of the “Iranian Blood Transfusion Organization” as a result of this film.

After the 1979 Revolution, Mehrjui produced “The School We Went To,” a film produced by the Institute for Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults. It depicted the repressive regime of a school supervisor who mistreats students. It was not granted a screening permit due to its critical undertones, and only a censored version was released a decade after its initial release. Mehrjui subsequently emigrated to France, but eventually returned to Iran. 

“The Tenants” became one of his most important films, where Mehrjui once again demonstrated his creative and directorial skills. The film was released in 1987 to widespread critical acclaim and became the highest grossing film of the year in Iran. In contrast to his earlier works, “The Tenants” is a dramatic social comedy that critiques the flawed foundations of a corrupt system. In the film’s conclusion, the apartment building collapses as a result of a disrupted water source, serving as a powerful metaphor for the collapse of a society based on wrongdoing. A symbol of the 1980s, this film examined the challenges faced by those in power after the revolution. 

In 1989, Mehrjui released the surrealistic film Hamoun. During the film, Khosro Shakibai played Hamid Hamoun, a troubled and obsessive man who was in love with his wife, Mahshid. After a passionate romance with Hamoun, Mahshid leaves him, taking their young son with her. There are many dream sequences and nightmarish scenes in Hamoun, reflecting the inner turmoil of an Iranian intellectual who was at odds with himself and with society.

Mehrjui directed “Banoo” in 1991, a film about a woman named Banoo, played by Bita Farahi. Farahi portrays Banoo as a wealthy and compassionate woman whose husband, Mahmoud – played by Khosrow Shakibai – leaves her to be with another woman. The film “Banoo” has been interpreted by some critics as a representation of Iran being destroyed by oppressive rulers. Seven years after the film was made, it was censored and was not screened.

Mehrjui was unique among Iranian filmmakers for devotings special attention to the role of women in the family and in society. Three of his films from the 1990s demonstrate this focus: Sara, Pari, and Leila. These films provide strong, central female characters with profound emotional and intellectual complexity and deep decision-making abilities. Mehrjui directed “Max” in 1999 and “Stay” in 2001. His 2003 film, “Mama’s Guest,” elevated his reputation once again as a first-class filmmaker with high standards.

Among Dariush Mehrjui’s controversial films, “Santoori” tells the story of Ali, a young and talented musician who sings and plays the santur (a traditional Persian instrument). He is unable to perform at gatherings where his art is censored and his work suppressed. He becomes addicted after his artworks are confiscated. Despite Mehrjui’s protests, “Santoori” was suppressed and censored, highlighting the challenges faced by artists in Iran’s repressive environment. It was never made available to the public for viewing.

Dariush Mehrjui’s latest work, “Laminar,” was made in 2019. Mehrjui withdrew the film from the Fajr festival to protest 2019 suppression and released it two years later. Nadi, played by Pardis Ahmadiyeh, is a young girl who is passionate about music, but her father opposes her involvement in the music industry. After forty years, Ali Nasirian collaborated with Mehrjui once again on this film.

With his cinematic artistry and thought-provoking themes, Dariush Mehrjui left an indelible mark on Iranian cinema. In addition to reflecting the complexity of human emotions, his films continue to resonate with audiences worldwide. Starting on October 16th, the Cinema House, the largest professional institution for filmmakers in Iran, will observe three days of public mourning as a mark of respect for the cinema community and fans of Mr. Mehrjui.

During a session at the Cinema House, Rasoul Sadr-Ameli mentioned Mr. Mehrjui’s murder and suggested that all film projects be suspended for one day during the funeral ceremonies. In response to the murders of Dariush Mehrjui and his wife, many artists, cultural figures, and political figures have reacted with shock and bewilderment.

In the memory of Iranian society, Dariush Mehrjui will remain a prominent figure. There are few Iranians who are unfamiliar with his name, and many are familiar with a portion of his work. NIAC extends its condolences to the family of this man and to all Iranians, with hopes that the murder case will be investigated judiciously and transparently.

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