The Blood of Flowers: Anita Amirrezvani

★★★

Although this is the second novel I’ve read by Anita Amirrezvani, it was actually her debut, which drew on her rich Iranian heritage to create a story of love and loss set in dazzling 17th-century Isfahan. It’s a tale of overlapping relationships, largely between women: those between mother and daughter; between friends; and between an established woman and her poor relations. But, most of all, it’s a tale of craftsmanship – of carpets: the sumptuous Persian carpets designed by masters in the workshops of Isfahan and knotted with painstaking patience, which are splendid enough to be venerated as works of art in themselves.

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Joy of Madness

Joy of Madness 1

★★★★

A cautionary note before we start. Don’t watch this unless you’ve already seen At Five in the Afternoon. You need that context to understand the events of this remarkable documentary and to appreciate the results of the hard graft we see here. This isn’t just any ‘making-of’ film. Slightly longer than an hour, it records the efforts of a twenty-two-year-old female (Iranian) director to make the first full-length film in Afghanistan, barely a year after the fall of the Taliban. And it’s filmed on a handheld digital video camera by her fourteen-year-old sister. A tale of frustration, determination and lots and lots of shouting, it’s a testament to the sheer force of will that’s necessary to get a film made, and a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes.

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At Five in the Afternoon

At Five in the Afternoon

★★★★

A year after the Taliban fell in Afghanistan, the young Iranian director Samira Makhmalbaf arrived in search of a story. She knew she wanted to make a film about the country, as a way to give a voice to its people. Afghanistan was visible to the wider world only through news broadcasts and politicians’ speeches: it was defined by outsiders who frequently represented themselves as ‘saviours’ who’d gone in to ‘liberate’ its people. Makhmalbaf wanted to tell the story of the people left on the ground: to show, frankly and compassionately, the ruined lives and hopes of the people of Kabul. It’s a very slow film, but beautifully made with an entirely amateur cast, and it gets under the skin of a society on the brink of recovery from horrific trauma, in a way that earnest western journalists never could.

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Equal of the Sun: Anita Amirrezvani

★★★

In 1576, when Tahmasb Shah of the Safavid dynasty dies unexpectedly, there is no designated heir to the Iranian throne. Sensing the chance to consolidate their power, factions within the ruling class weigh up the contenders. Pari Khan Khanoom has all the qualities of a brilliant Shah – intelligence, political acuity, generosity and compassion – but one major flaw negates all the rest: she is a woman. And yet she is determined to play a role in the struggle for the succession. As Tahmasb’s beloved daughter and most trusted adviser, she has helped to direct the empire’s policy for fourteen years and resolves to carve out a place for herself under the new Shah. But which of her brothers will succeed in claiming the crown? Based on the true story of Tahmasb’s ambitious, fratricidal sons, Amirrezvani’s novel turns the spotlight on their remarkable sister, as remembered by her loyal vizier, the eunuch Javaher.

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