Celluloid Underground (2023)

Directed by Ehsan Khoshbakht

After the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran, a boy grew up obsessed with all the movies he couldn't see. He met a mysterious film collector who saved thousands of films from destruction by the new regime. Despite arrest and torture, the collector refused to give up his secret hoard. Together they forged a friendship based on passion for cinema and resistance against tyranny. The boy escaped to exile in London to become a filmmaker, and tells their shared story of obsession and celluloid dreams.

Cambridge Film Festival 2023: Film #2

Although reminding at times of the cineaste—cum—documentary maker Guy Maddin, it was a little disappointing that the cinephilia on display in Celluloid Underground was deployed primarily to flatter and confirm a Western audience's preconceived conceptions about theocratic Iran. (On the other hand, the fact that this is artistically unchallenging is part of the point — as the Amis/Hitchens/Rushdie crowd never tired of letting us know, totalitarianism is itself a cliché, so perhaps this lack of a new perspective is not the fault of the director per se.) Nevertheless, a more challenging documentary would have interrogated the role of these specifically Western cultural products pre- and post-1979 Iran, as well as been more invested in a more critical (or at least more humble) investigation of what might lead one to throw themselves—or is that hide oneself?—in the often self-indulgent medium of cinema.

Those interested in Iranian cinema may find Imogen Sara Smith's article in Fil Comment interesting.