Veil of dreams

IssueDecember 2008 - January 2009
Comment by Jeff Cloves

Back in September eight short video films were shown in Stroud to mark World Peace Day. Collectively the films tried to answer this question: what does it take to build peace? The screening of the films was followed by a discussion with some of the film makers on the subject “Can Art promote a culture of peace?” Heady stuff and around 30 people attended and took part. I attended too and found each of the eight films powerful in their various ways. The film that most touched me, however, was also the longest (18 minutes) and its director, the Iranian journalist Mahmoud Reza Sani, was one of those who was also present.

Siyamo was filmed in Afghanistan and is a story of charm and profundity. It concerns a young man who has a dream about a young woman with long black curly hair and sets off to find her. All he knows of her is that her name is Siyamo, and she is from Afghanistan. We never see the young man in the film (the camera is his eye on the world) and we never meet Siyamo until the very end of the film.

Then, as she begins to remove her completely enclosing veil prior to finally shaking free her (symbolic?) hair, the screen goes blank. So, we’ve been taken on a journey without a visible resolution – a parable of the war in Afghanistan perhaps.

I liked this film very much because it presented a rare chance to see Afghanistan without looking through a haze of smoke from gunfire and bombs. The women and men and children our romantic young man encounters on his quest are ordinary and varied.

Some are funny, some are devious, some are angry, some are baffled, but they’re all trying to get by and survive the successive invasions which have torn their country to pieces. The war is never mentioned, a soldier is never seen, but war is an invisible, inaudible presence. Its only oblique intrusion is when a group of male coffee drinkers – musicians perhaps, spivs even?– pretend to be arms dealers.

The film reminded me of my own recurring dreams of frustrated aims and desires: everyone professes to know a “Siyamo” but no one knows quite where she is and how to find her. It’s a suitable paradox – which Mahmoud revealed afterwards – that when Siyamo makes her only appearance at the very end of the film, she is played by a boy. But, as we never see her “unveiled” we would never have known had he not told us.

I’d met Mahmoud earlier in the day when he bought a Peace News from me in Stroud High Street. He spoke to me in English but during the discussion after the film he spoke through an interpreter. I liked him immediately and I’d surmise he’s a Sufi – at least by inclination.

His film is a very accomplished piece of work: tender, observant, sympathetic and, in effect, a piece of visual magic realism. The question it never asks directly is the one which the film, nevertheless, consistently poses: why have Britain and America invaded this country? And for whose benefit is this invasion?

Mahmoud was a TV journalist working in Iran when his film was commissioned. When he returned with Siyamo the company he worked for refused to show it and he was given the sack. It is a humane and revelatory film which deserves to be seen on British TV and it’s about recognisable human beings – not “Islamic fascists” as Mr Bush believes – intent on staying alive.

I can’t recommend Mahmoud’s work too highly. Let us all hope he makes many more films.

Topics: Afghanistan, Culture
See more of: Jeff Cloves