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Persian pictures, gridiron greats, the enigma of YSL

"Filmfarsi"courtesy Boston Festival of Films from Iran

As relations between the United States and Iran reach their lowest point in 40 years it might be worth looking into the Boston Festival of Films from Iran (Jan. 16-26), at the Museum of Fine Arts. Film, sometimes, has the power to transcend national differences and promote empathy and understanding. Hey, it can’t hurt.

The program includes the documentary “Filmfarsi” (Jan. 17 and 18), by Ehsan Khoshbakht, a look at the tawdry and sometimes illuminating popular movies that flourished in Iran until the revolutionary regime took over, in 1979, and purged the film industry of non-Islamist elements

No great loss, it would seem at first glance. As Khoshbakht points out in his voice-over narrative, “filmfarsi” is a term coined by Iranian film scholar Hushang Kavusi, referring to the national cinema as “neither film nor Farsi [the Persian language of Iran] … a mockery of a national cinema … a spontaneous mash-up of different national cinemas giving the illusion of something uniquely Persian.”

The clips, taken from Khoshbakht’s cache of illegal VHS tapes of the originals, appear to back up that assessment. A hodgepodge of Hollywood, Bollywood, the French New Wave, and Italian movies, these rarities include remakes of such films as “Gilda” (1946), “Vertigo (1958),” “Breathless” (1960), and “West Side Story” (1961). They also reflect in their madcap mix of melodrama, musicals, broad comedy, and noir the social discontent brewing beneath the glitzy, decadent surface of the shah’s regime.


With tragic irony, one of the first victims of that upheaval was filmfarsi itself. Khoshbakht opens his documentary essay with horrifying images of a movie theater torched in 1978 by militant Islamists; 377 audience members were trapped inside and burned to death. But as he points out, in only 10 years another film movement would rise from the ashes, the world-acclaimed Iranian New Wave, featuring auteurs like Abbas Kiarostami, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, and Jafar Panahi. Maybe, if given enough time, cinema can triumph over history.


Go to www.mfa.org/series/the-boston-festival-of-films-from-iran.

Nick Saban (left) and Bill Belichick, in "Belichick & Saban: The Art of Coaching."HBO

Well-coached I

In Ken Rodgers’s “Belichick & Saban: The Art Of Coaching,” Bill Belichick, head coach of the New England Patriots, and Nick Saban, head coach of the University of Alabama football team, have a heart-to-heart talk, a yearly event for the two football legends, who have been friends since 1982.

They have a lot in common. Both are around the same age (Saban was born in 1951, Belichick in 1952 ), both are of Croatian descent, both had fathers who were also coaches, both won six national championships, and both believe in the same mantra: “Do Your Job!”

Also, though unknown at the time the film was made, both would have disappointing 2019 seasons, the Patriots losing in their first playoff game and Alabama losing to rivals Louisiana State University and Auburn. No doubt they will be talking about that when they get together again later this year.

Here, though, they expound on their coaching philosophy, which involves getting to know individual players, making sure each knows his role on the team and “Do their job,” and similar nostrums. They also disparage millennials for their reliance on newfangled computers rather than on personal interaction.

There is not much in the film about the nuts and bolts of tactics and strategy, although a trick play that Belichick borrowed from Saban to win a 2015 playoff game is elucidated with satisfying clarity. And the two also talk about the agony of defeat and how it can be a powerful motivator. “People respond better than when things go well,” says Saban about failure. Pats fans hope that’s true.


“Belichick & Saban: The Art of Coaching” can be seen on HBO, HBO On Demand, HBO NOW, HBO GO, and HBO partners’ streaming platforms.

Go to www.hbo.com/documentaries/belichick-and-saban-the-art-of-coaching.

Pierre Bergé in "Celebration."KimStim and Museum of Fine Arts

Well-coached II

I have seen three films about Yves Saint Laurent — Jalil Lespert’s 2014 feature, “Yves Saint Laurent”; Pierre Thoretton’s 2010 documentary, “L’amour fou”; and now Olivier Meyrou’s documentary “Celebration” (2007) — and in each the legendary designer, who died in 2008, at 71, remains a mystery while Pierre Bergé, his business manager, erstwhile romantic partner, and cofounder of the Yves Saint Laurent couture house, takes charge. That is especially the case in Meyrou’s film, which was commissioned by Bergé to record Saint Laurent’s preparations for his comeback collection in 1998.

Bergé was not happy with the finished product. Apparently, he thought it gave the impression that he was manipulating and exploiting the designer, who appears to be mentally incompetent. So Bergé refused to allow the film’s release, relenting shortly before his own death, in 2017, at 86.

It is hard to argue with Bergé’s assessment. Saint Laurent in the film seems lucid at times in interviews and is shown working diligently on his designs. But Meyrou often catches him in unguarded moments as he grimaces, twitches, and looks lost and distraught. On one occasion, at a dinner celebrating his birthday, he seems to be asleep. And Bergé’s solicitude for Saint Laurent can verge on condescending disrespect, as when he scolds him for his posture. “Stand up a bit straighter,” he tells him. “Don’t lean over like a doddering old man.”


At the end of the film Saint Laurent accepts an award and delivers a speech, in halting English: frail and elegant and a little sad. The speech is well-received, and Saint Laurent graciously acknowledges the compliments of admirers as he leaves. But once free of them — though not the camera — his face is stricken with confusion and despair.

“Celebration” can be seen at the Museum of Fine Arts Jan. 8, 10, 11, 12, and 15.

Go to www.mfa.org/event/film/celebration.

Peter Keough can be reached at petervkeough@gmail.com.