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Wellspring presents
Mystic Iran: The Unseen World (2002)

"I am a woman of two cultures, East and West."
- Narrator (Shohreh Aghdashloo)

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: February 03, 2004

Director: Aryana Farshad

Manufacturer: Audio Plus Video International
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 00h:51m:40s
Release Date: January 13, 2004
UPC: 790658007710
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Even in—especially in—post 9/11 America, there's much about the Islamic world that remains opaque; and in particular, those of us old enough to remember the Iranian hostage crisis of the Carter Administration know that Iran has changed radically and dramatically since those days. Getting over our Western chauvinism, in concert with the receptivity in Iran toward American culture and political institutions, can go a long way toward establishing a new era of harmony between Iran and the U.S., even if President Bush uses helpful rhetoric like "axis of evil"; unfortunately, at best, this documentary is only the tiniest little baby step toward some sort of cultural rapprochement.

The good news is that Aryana Farshad and her film crew have gotten access to many previously unseen aspects of Iranian life, particularly in the religious realm. We get to see, therefore, some of the most beautiful and unfamiliar temples and mosques in Iran, things that are architecturally splendid and theologically significant, and are allowed to witness some of the lesser-known religious rites of the Iranians. The bad news: Farshad simply will not shut up. She has written a narration for the hour that is unrelenting—it either restates the obvious (e.g., when we see light streaming in through a window, she tells us that there's light streaming in through the window), or it's about Farshad herself, and the singular wisdom she has from having one foot in each culture. (Iranian born, Farshad has lived in the west for the past twenty years or so.) Perhaps, we might think, slightly patronizingly, the Iranians aren't sufficiently media savvy to understand a documentary film crew and what they do? The many satellite dishes and TV antennas in the wide shots of Tehran give the lie to that, and the most damning piece of evidence is actually the DVD case itself, on which Farshad's name appears no fewer than seven times. It's clear what her favorite cinematic subject and topic of conversation is; she would have made a far better film if she'd let the Iranians speak for themselves.

Some of the images are beautiful, though, and you may in fact want to turn the sound down and just watch some of the pictures go by. Not one other person gets to say a single word in this movie, and Farshad says that she's revealing to us the Iranian soul. It's what she's unintentionally revealing about her own self-importance that will probably strike you, though, and that's a real disappointment, given that this might have explained a lot to Western audiences about Iran, in much the way that Azar Nafisi's lovely memoir, Reading Lolita in Tehran, does. Read the book; don't see the movie.

Rating for Style: C-
Rating for Substance: D


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: It's a pretty fair transfer, without resolution problems or debris; the location shooting brought with it some cinematographic compromises, but that's to be expected.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: The audio transfer is fine, but really, given the content of the 2.0 track, your best friend here may be the MUTE button.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 8 cues and remote access
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Circle, Maryam, Marooned in Iraq
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. DVD credits
  2. coupon for online DVD purchases
Extras Review: Click on the Wellspring logo to find credits for the DVD; weblinks are for the director's site, the distributor's, and two others. Also, you'll find a 10% off coupon for an online DVD retailer.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

The subtitle of the film promises that we'll be seeing "the unseen world" of Iran, and while it may no longer be unseen, thanks to Farshad, at the end of this film it's still unheard. Exclusively for Farshad's fan club, of which she herself is the president.


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