Nobel Peace Prize Henry Kissinger declared: “This war is unimportant…I just hope the two countries destroy each other”. This comment by Nixon’s former Foreign Affairs Secretary of State is not surprising, yet its cynicism highlights to what extent no one understood the whys and wherefores of the war. Nevertheless, the Iran-Iraq war lasted for eight years, between 1980 and 1988, with 1,200,000 victims: 700,000 in Iran and 500,000 in the Iraqi army. From a financial point of view, the arms sales to Iraq in 1985 were shared out as follows: USSR 17 billion dollars, France 5.5, China 1.8, Egypt 1.7 while Syria and Libya supplied Iran. The Americans supplied both sides, hence Irangate. With the end result that in 1988 the borders were still the same as decided by the 1975 Algiers Agreement.
According to Alain Brunet, a specialist in this war and a filmmaker, as soon as conscription was announced by the Iranian government, the Ministry for Culture and the Propaganda Committee began to produce war films to “glorify the courage of the soldiers, exalt their heroism and make those sent to the front into martyrs”.
Enormous cinema studios were built close to the holy city of Qom so that filmmakers might have all the technical support, sets and material they needed to make these war films.
More than 250 war films were made by the Iranian studios. The production of films about this period continued after the war. We have chosen three films and a short documentary that tell of the war and its consequences. These films are not representative of the highly standardised ones made as propaganda. The four films selected question the war and its often dramatic consequences for those fighting in it, and also for the Iranian people as a whole who had to support and endure it.
We have chosen to show the most famous of them, Bashu, the Little Stranger, made in 1985 and which came out in Iran in 1989 and in France in 1991. It tells the story of a young boy fleeing the front line towards a region of Iran where, due to the darker colour of his skin and his accent, he is considered to be a foreigner. Bashu, the Little Stranger was produced by the “Centre for Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults”, an institute that worked extensively with Abbas Kiarostami (The Bread and Alley, The Traveller, Where is the Friend’s Home? ...). Bashu, the Little Stranger was one of the first films to criticise the war. Kimia, filmed in 1995, after the war, tells the story of a former prisoner of war who tries to find and retrieve his daughter who he has not seen grow up, who was raised by another woman after his wife died. A double, even triple punishment. The initial scenes of bombings at the beginning of the film are quite spectacular and the father’s search truly moving. In Leily is with Me (1966), the war is narrated via comedy, an exceptional device. The film’s success is due to its rhythm and the accumulation of awful situations highlighting the cowardice of the main character. Not to be missed. The last film, Undo (2016), is a documentary that chronicles the meeting, 37 years after the beginning of the war, between an Iranian photographer and a cameraman from the Iraqi army. An attempt at dialogue that resurrects the past. Iranian cinema has clearly not finished dealing with this war.
- Olivier Broche