It’s a sign of the times that for its 20th anniversary, the Boston Festival of Films From Iran can’t boast the legendary names of past years, such as Abbas Kiarostami, Jafar Panahi, or Mohsen Makhmalbaf, whose work has defined modern Iranian cinema. Political turmoil and government suppression of Iran’s artists has made mounting the event difficult and resulted in a smaller festival running Saturday through Jan. 31 at the Museum of Fine Arts. But the eight diverse films in this year’s edition offer evidence of a steadfastly vibrant cinema in Iran, a remarkable feat considering the conditions that many filmmakers, both in the country and in exile, endure.
One of Iran’s more celebrated filmmakers, Bahman Ghobadi (“No One Knows About Persian Cats”) made the festival’s opening film, “Rhino Season,” in Turkey, where he’s lived since government officials pressured him to leave Iran in 2009. Ghobadi has said that his haunting love story spanning three decades was inspired by the incarceration of a family friend, a Kurdish poet, played in the film by the veteran Iranian star Behrouz Vossoughi. But the film also parallels Ghobadi’s own struggles. In “Rhino Season,” the poet is jailed along with his wife (played by the Italian actress Monica Bellucci) on trumped-up charges. In 2009, Ghobadi’s girlfriend and writing partner, journalist Roxana Saberi, was arrested for espionage and, in a sham trial that was reported around the world, sentenced to eight years imprisonment. She was released three months later and moved to the United States; Ghobadi also never returned to Iran. “Rhino Season” screens this Saturday at 7 p.m. and Jan. 20 at 12:30 p.m.