[Un semplice evento] F.: Naghi Maasoumi. M.: Kazem Rajinia. Int.: Mohammad Zamani, Anne Mohammad Tarikhi, Habibullah Safarian, Hedayatullah Navid, Majid Baghaie. Prod.: Sazman-e Cinemaie Keshvar. 35mm. D.: 82‘. Col.
A few days in the life of a young boy living by the Caspian Sea. At school he is falling behind his classmates and almost expelled. He helps his father to fish illegally, and at home watches as his mother’s health deteriorates.
Sohrab Shahid Saless’s debut feature was made clandestinely with the budget and crew assigned to him for a short film by the government-run Sazman-e Cinemaie Keshvar, for whom he had previously made around 20, mostly uncredited shorts. The film was shot in Bandar Shah. Saless, who admired Čechov, chose the location for its ‘Russian-looking’ atmosphere and the fact that it was at the end of the railroad – at a dead end, like the lives of his characters. Mohammad Zamani, who had never been to a cinema, plays the young boy and one can feel the weight of the world on his frail shoulders. Mysteriously quiet and empty, the film’s characters are apparently devoid of any feeling, yet still capable of making an enormous emotional impact on the audience.
The numbing pace and incisive sense of reality creates a world in which the moment of the ‘simple event’ – the death of the boy’s mother – hardly moves the child or the audience; as significant, or insignificant, as the dogs barking or the crickets chirping throughout the film. Indeed the only difference between all such events in a Shahid Saless film involving death is that the latter occurs silently and without a trace.
Born in 1944, Shahid Saless was the ultimate loner figure in Iranian cinema. He moved to Austria in 1963 where he studied theatre and cinema before relocating to Paris in 1966 to study at Le Conservatoire libre du cinéma français. Diagnosed with tuberculosis and an ulcer, he returned to Iran and undertook documentary work for the Ministry of Culture. A Simple Event, arguably one of the most influential of all Iranian New Wave films, was shown at the second Teheran International Film Festival where it won the FIPRESCI award. Shahid Saless went on to make the even bleaker T.abi‘at-e bijān (Still Life) in the same location, probably his greatest cinematic achievement. Problems with the censor forced him to give up working on a documentary and he left Iran for Germany where he made at least 13 films, mostly produced by German TV.
Always detached and melancholic, in 1998 he moved to Chicago where he died following struggles with persisting illnesses, cancer and poverty. His long-lasting influence on Iranian cinema can be traced in filmmakers from Abbas Kiarostami to Mohammad Ali Talebi.