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April 23 - April 26

Under the Skin: The Films of Rakhshan Bani-Etemad

One of Iran’s most celebrated directors, Rakhshan Bani-Etemad (b. 1954) embodies two important trends in Iranian cinema – the nation’s long and diverse tradition of innovative documentary filmmaking, dating back before the 1979 revolution, and Iran’s perhaps surprising number of women directors, including Tamineh Milani, Niki Karimi, Samira Makhmalbaf and Bani-Etemad herself. Bani-Etemad began her career making documentaries for television before making a name for herself as a fiction filmmaker in the late 1980s with a series of pointed social satires. Nargess marked Bani-Etemad’s shift to a decidedly more personal mode of filmmaking and announced a new focus on the difficulties faced by various kinds of outsiders, and especially women, negotiating their roles in an unstable society. Bani-Etemad’s narrative films typically feature female protagonists and engrossing melodrama, romantic triangles, familial conflicts and the struggles of women to balance family, love and work. Setting her melodramas within resolutely gritty and war-torn settings peopled by petty criminals, drug addicts and loners, Bani-Etemad’s narrative films maintain a strong commitment to socially grounded realism. Refusing any trace of the sentimental, Bani-Etemad’s melodramas are striking examples of popular cinema used as a forceful probe into social problems long familiar - like the place of women - and relatively new - like the ravages of drug addiction. Over the last several years, as political reform, reaction and unrest have rippled across Iran, Bani-Etemad has returned to documentary to portray a country at the crossroads, taking the urgent pulse of an extremely young population confronting the discontents of the Islamic revolution, of women seizing a newfound freedom but also chafing at the lingering obstacles of religious tradition.  

This program is presented with support from the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard, the Crown Center for Middle East Studies at Brandeis, the ILEX Foundation, the Film Study Center at Harvard, Harvard College Women’s Center and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.  

Special thanks: Ramyar Rossoukh; Cemal Kafadar, the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard; Naghmeh Sohrabi, the Crown Center for Middle East Studies, Brandeis; Olga Davidson, Niloo Fotouhi, the ILEX Foundation; Ross McElwee, Ernst Karel, the Film Study Center, Harvard; Gina Helfrich, Harvard College Women's Center; Dean Otto, Walker Art Center.

Friday April 23 at 7pm


Directed by Rakhshan Bani-Etemad.
With Abolfazl Poorarab, Atefeh Razavi, Farimah Farjami
Iran 1992, 35mm, color, 100 min. Persian with English subtitles

Bani-Etemad’s fourth narrative feature, Nargess brought her renown with its enthralling story of a young working-class woman who captivates a lonely thief. Estranged from his family, the criminal turns to his accomplice and sometime lover for her assistance in securing Nargess’ hand in marriage. The older woman agrees, on the condition that he remain her partner in crime and that they rekindle their relationship. Bani-Etemad uses the fractured love triangle as a poetic compass to chart the map of a nation torn between traditional social and gender roles and driven by a raw cupidity for wealth at any cost.

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Friday April 23 at 9pm

The May Lady (Banoo-ye ordibehesht)

Directed by Rakhshan Bani-Etemad.
With Minoo Farshchi, Mani Kasraian, Golab Adineh
Iran 1998, 35mm, color, 88 min. Persian with English subtitles

The success of Nargess earned Bani-Etemad the freedom to make more personal projects, such as this autobiographically inspired story of a divorced woman struggling to raise her teenaged son while simultaneously trying to finish a documentary about motherhood and maintaining a relationship with her lover.  Combining interviews with a range of women captured by Bani-Etamad’s protagonist and alter ego, The May Lady offers both a poetic tribute to filmmaking and motherhood and a clear-eyed recognition of the stark difficulties faced by working women in contemporary Iran.

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Special Event Tickets $12
Sunday April 25 at 7pm

Our Times (Ruzegar-e ma)

Directed by Rakhshan Bani-Etemad, Appearing in Person
Iran 2002, video, color, 75 min. Persian with English subtitles

In the days leading up to Iran’s 2001 elections, Bani-Etemad was struck by the passion of her daughter and her generation for Mohammed Khatami, the candidate who seemed to promise genuine reform. Bani-Etemad returned to documentary to portray the aspirations of the Iranian youth, contrasting their optimism with the struggle of a female candidate not only to run for the presidency but also to find an apartment for herself, her mother and her daughter, as a single mother.

We Are Half of Iran's Population

Directed by Rakhshan Bani-Etemad, Appearing in Person
Iran 2009, video, color, 42 min. Persian with English subtitles

A loose follow-up to Our Times, Bani-Etemad’s documentary short was made during the months before last year’s controversial elections in Iran. Filming a diverse coalition of women’s rights activists discussing their opinions on pressing contemporary issues, Bani-Etemad asked three of the four presidential candidates to view the footage for comment, with Mahmoud Ahmedinejad declining to participate. A number of the activists seen in the film were later arrested in the post-election protests.

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Monday April 26 at 7pm

Mainline (Khoon bazi)

Directed by Rakhshan Bani-Etemad and Mohsen Abdolvahab, Bani-Etemad Appearing in Person
With Bita Farahi, Baran Kosari, Masoud Rayegan
Iran 2006, 35mm, color, 78 min. Persian with English subtitles

Bani-Etemad’s latest fictional feature focuses on one of the narrative threads of the powerful Under the Skin of the City  (2001), her best-known film in this country: the problem of drug addiction in contemporary Tehran. Mainline uses the form of a gripping road movie to tell its story of a mother fighting to get her child - played by Bani-Etemad’s own daughter - to a heroin rehab clinic on the Caspian coast. Co-directed with longtime collaborator Mohsen Abdolvahab, Mainline finds Bani-Etemad continuing to explore the formal properties of the image—in this case, extensively using a handheld camera and experimenting with color desaturation.

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