Sog.: Azadaran-e Bayal [Gholam-Hossein Saedi]. Scen.: Dariush Mehrjui. F.: Fereydon Ghovanlou. M.: Dariush Mehrjui. Mus.: Hormouz Farhat. Int.: Ezzatolah Entezami (Mash Hassan), Mahin Shahabi (la moglie di Hassan), Ali Nassirian (Mash Islam), Jamshid Mashayekhi (Abbas), Jafar Vali (Kadkhoda). DCP. D.: 104’. Bn.
There are other films about men and cows (The Cow and I, for one) but unlike The Cow they can hardly be called love stories, nor are they works that so powerfully explore madness, solitude and obsession as this film does. This milestone of Iranian New Wave cinema tells the story of a poor villager (played by stage actor Ezzatolah Entezami in one of Iranian cinema’s greatest performances) whose only source of joy and livelihood is his cow, which provides milk for the village. (Not surprisingly, when the film came out, the milk was viewed by the left as symbolic of oil). One night the cow is mysteriously killed and that’s when the madness, or rather transformation, begins.
A filmmaker who has reinvented his approach to cinema in every decade since the 1960s, Mehrjui can move from the sombre tone of a Salinger adaptation, to a hilarious comedy of sorts. From humble beginnings he went on to study philosophy at UCLA and upon his return to Iran was assigned to direct a James Bond-type thriller which had nothing to do with his authorial ambitions. It was his second film, The Cow, based on short stories by Marxist psychiatrist Gholam-Hossein Saedi, which served as his breakthrough. “While making The Cow I had no idea what effects it would have on the history of Iranian cinema”, says Mehrjui, “it was more a reaction on my part to the trend of the totally commercial and somehow vulgar film industry dominating that period. I always wanted to make a film in a village with rustic spaces, especially after seeing Au Hasard Balthazar and Los Olvidados”.
Promptly banned from export, one of Mehrjui’s French friends smuggled a print out to the Venice Film Festival, where it was shown without subtitles and became one of the first films of the Iranian cinema given international appraisal. Poignantly wrapped in layers of religion and leftist politics (two major forces of the 1979 revolution), The Cow came under the spotlight more than a decade later, when Ayatollah Khomeini identified it as an example of good cinema, in opposition to the many ‘corrupting films’ from the Pahlavi era.