Nar ‘O Nay (1989): Iranian Feature, Directed by Sa’ied Ebrahimifar

(English Title The Flame of the Pomegranate in the Cane)

There is no mistaking the fact that the 1989 Iranian film, Nar ‘O Nay (The Flame of the Pomegranate in the Cane) is one of a kind, the closest one can get to a film as the visual equivalent of poetry.

Structured as a series of tableaux depicting episodes from a poet’s life, the film relies almost exclusively on its visuals and painterly quality.

Director Sa’ied Ebrahimifar, who also assisted in writing the screenplay, tells the story of a photographer (Jahangir Almasi) who discovers an old man’s body on the sidewalk. The only clues about Kamali, the mysterious man, are a picture of his daughter and his notebook. The photographer takes him to the hospital and while waiting for the tests to be conducted, reads from the man’s diary.

Most of the film consists of one lengthy flashback, in which Kamali’s life is told, from birth to old age, through beautifully evocative cinematography and poetic narration.

Nar ‘O Nay is a field day for semiologists and psychoanalysts, but is not always interesting for moviegoers. Highly symbolic, film takes a cyclical approach, dealing with the ceremonial and rituals in one man’s life.

Some of the tableaux are extraordinarily lyrical, like the highly stylized wedding scene, with everybody dressed in white. “May my body and soul be your ransom,” Kamali tells his wife, who he has never met before. Taken out of context, poetic narration and spare dialogue might sound pretentious, but in the context of the film they make perfect sense.

The best sequences are those devoted to Kamali’s pastoral but lonely childhood. One can see the making of a future poet out of a sensitivie, observant boy, who is always by himself, that is, with nature. The idyllic scenes in nature are pictorially stunning, like the one in which a child attempts to grasp a reflection of pomegranate in a pond. In another powerful scene, Kamali is instructed by his father the beautiful art of caligraphy, even how to sharpen his pen with a knife.

It is easy to see why this Nar O Nay has done the international film festival circui. For long stretches, the film is silent, no dialogue and not even music, just poetic visuals–lyrical compositions. In one such scene, the petals of red roses are collected, then put in an urn and boiled over a flame. The film is ambitious, but not pretentious.

Everything in the film is spare and austere. The direction is unostentatious and the acting understated. The photographer, who also played Kamali as a young man, recites rather than acts. There is almost no dialogue among the film’s characters.

With the exception of the last scene, it is remarkably articulate. But the ending is poor and inconsistent. All of a sudden the director loses confidence in his material, and resorts to closeups of newly born babies crying, while the soundtrack plays the bombastic music from Kubrick’s 2001: Odyseey.

Nar ‘O Nay is a sad, elegiac film whose dominant motifs are loss and longing.  The film is original; it can’t be compared to any other film.