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What To Read On Iran This Week

I suppose it’s possible that many out there are growing just a bit tired of all the election analysis. (Not me, especially after today’s debate… but more on that later.) For those of you who are looking to feed your Iran addiction, but have had enough of the campaign coverage, here are a few suggestions for your weekend reading list.

On the sports front, the Iran’s victorious football match against Qatar on Tuesday was closely watched for its domestic and regional political implications, as well as for the fate of Iran’s ambitions to return to the World Cup competition. The sport has a profound resonance among young Iranians, and a particularly notable recent history that is intertwined with the rise of the reform movement in Iran and the repression of popular protests after the 2009 elections. Holly Dagres offers a thoughtful take on all this history in her piece “Iran In June: A Fever Pitch of Football and Politics,” published by the online journal Muftah.

Film factored heavily into Wednesday's second presidential debate, with candidate commentaries on Argo and Zero Dark Thirty, as well as a shout-out by Mohammad Reza Aref to Asghar Farhadi, who in 2012 became the first Iranian to win an Academy Award for his film, A Separation. Farhadi’s latest film “The Past” (featuring a half-Iranian couple, but shot in France) recently premiered to great acclaim at the Cannes Film Festival, including a best actress award for Berenice Bejo. The film has apparently been approved for showing in Iran. Read interviews with Farhadi about the film here and here, and a review of the film here.

Cannes also featured another Iranian film, this one made in secret by Mohammad Rasoulof, who made his first appearance outside Iran since his 2010 arrest and subsequent conviction for crimes against the state. He was banned from filmmaking and from travelling outside Iran, but managed to create “Manuscripts Don’t Burn,” a fictional examination of one of the most vicious attempts by the Islamic Republic to silence its intellectuals. The film won the critics’ prize in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes. For a review of the new film, see this Hollywood Reporter article as well as this one in Variety, and for an overview of Rasoulof’s past work, see Michael Sicinski’s piece in Cinemascope from 2011, “When The Salt Attacks The Sea: The Films of Mohammad Rasoulf.”  From Tehran, the view of the film was quite different, not suprisingly, as articulated in this Fars News article.

Also from Cannes, here’s an interview with renowned Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami, who openly hoped for “some miracles to happen in Iran to save the nation,” but navigated cautiously around political minefields and questions concerning his friends and fellow Iranian filmmakers. 

Speaking of film, check out this incredibly moving short video entitled "Fifty People, One Question," by Ali Molavi. Even if you don't speak Persian, it’s worth a look simply as a reminder of the lives and hopes of ordinary Iranians that hang in the balance of the elections and the ongoing standoff between Tehran and the international community.

Keeping to the theme of Iranian culture, I want to pass along another link to an article about a milestone event in Iranian history. In the interests of full disclosure, I happen to be married to the author, but as anyone with a decade or more of marriage under the belt may attest, that only makes me a more intense critic of his work. Ray Takeyh's piece on the relative share of culpability for the 1953 coup that unseated Mohammad Mossadeq and resulted in the reimposition of the Pahlavi monarch and a subsequent intensification of U.S. support to Tehran is an important, and much needed, re-interpretation of a highly politicized history.

Finally, just a few pieces to feed any residual election fever with the vote just a week away. From Mohsen Asgari of BBC, here’s a snapshot of perspectives on the presidential race from Kashan, which is not exactly small-town at a population of approximately 400,000, but certainly feels worlds away from the vast metropolis of Tehran. And check out these photos from the campaign trail, by Mehr News photographer Fatemeh Behboudi.