Mohsen Makhmalbaf's Gabbeh (1996) is just the second Iranian film ever widely distributed in the U.S. (Jafar Panahi's The White Balloon was the first). A gabbeh is an Iranian carpet produced by the nomadic Ghashghai tribe of southern Iran, comparable to the folk art of American quilts; in the film’s opening scenes, an elderly husband and wife travel to a nearby stream to wash their gabbeh, discussing the meaning behind the figures sewn upon it. The rug depicts a woman in blue and a man in red, together on a white horse; suddenly, the woman on the tapestry seems to come to life — her name too is Gabbeh, and the blue dress she wears is identical to the one worn by the old wife. She proceeds to tell her tragic story: it seems that despite her love for a mysterious stranger on horseback who follows her nomadic family wherever they travel, Gabbeh’s father refuses to allow her to marry until a series of stipulations have first been met. Makhmalbaf frames his episodic tale with interludes on the colors of nature.
Perhaps my favorite foreign film—the colors in it, the dual-layer storytelling, the emotion—when her lover calls to her and she can’t go to him—ugh. And when the youngest sibling goes after the stray goat, and she can’t answer—-ugh, again. A rally fascinating and poetic look at nomadic life.
Really, a must see if you want to delve into Iranian cinema, post-Revolution.