By Amir Mansouri, Tehran (Source: Mianeh)
"Body of Lies", a Hollywood spy drama starring Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani, has been met with considerable enthusiasm in Iran - especially among fans of Hollywood films. The film marks the first time an Iranian actress has taken a significant role in a famous movie and acted alongside international celebrities.
Although many in Iran saw "Body of Lies" before it hit the screens in Europe, the inclusion of an Iranian in the cast was not the only reason for the excitement about this American production.
The reality is that a large number of Iranians are already fans of Hollywood movies, even though only a handful of cinemas in Tehran publicly screen these films.
Body of Lies features celebrated Iranian actress Golshiftah Farahani as a nurse who treats the agent's injuries and helps him understand more about the culture in which he is working. Israeli-born Alon Aboutboul portrays the clever and deadly adversary, Al-Saleem. Much of the film was shot in Morocco, where director Scott found locations to believably stand in for settings from Iraq to Jordan.
Cinema fans keep up with Hollywood news, including Oscar and Golden Globe nominations and international film festivals. Daily newspapers cater to a certain market of readers who follow the personal lives and careers of actors like Leonardo DiCaprio, Angelina Jolie, Sharon Stone, Sean Penn, Brad Pitt and others.
Etemad-e Melli newspaper, owned by reformist cleric and former parliamentary speaker Mehdi Karroubi, is known to carry stories about the Golden Globes and top celebrities.
The level of enthusiasm and interest in Hollywood may seem strange considering that less than ten cinemas screen Hollywood movies.
The Visual Media Institute, which is affiliated with the ministry of culture and guidance as well as other official centres, releases all films. But it does not have a free hand in selecting the movies and must censor scenes that are considered explicit or that involve dancing or violence. They also cut scenes that the state deems amoral.
But this is not the case in the unofficial market.
Even though it is difficult for Iranian movie fans to see Hollywood films through official channels, they can still be easily bought on the street fairly cheaply.
In Tehran, newly-released and banned films can be home-delivered like pizzas. For years, consumers of banned goods in Iran, from movies to alcohol, use this method to get hold of whatever they are looking for.
Sina, 28, watches films through a "mobile video club" that costs him one US dollar per week. The club is actually a person: Pejman, 32, who home-delivers bags of films to hundreds of customers weekly.
Sina said he was particularly impressed by Woody Allen's latest film, Vicky Christina Barcelona, which he saw in October.
Many of Pejman's movies are new international releases that are banned by the authorities. He also carries films by famed Iranian director Jafar Panahi which never had a chance of being shown in Iran.
Pejman delivers the films to Sina on Tuesdays. I went to Sina's one day to see what kinds of movies are available through the club.
There were DVD copies of "Australia" with Nicole Kidman, "Milk" with Sean Penn, "Marley & Me" with Jennifer Aniston and "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" with Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. Other titles included "Madagascar II", "Wall-E", "Indiana Jones", "The Dark Knight", "Kung Fu Panda", and "Iron Man".
While we checked out the smuggled goods, Pejman told us, "I do have some of these films with Farsi subtitles too, but of course you won't have any problems with English."
Sina said he has improved his English by constantly watching Hollywood movies on satellite channels and renting and buying films.
There is also a market for artistic cinema, yet this remains limited. Ahmad Reza owns a humble shop in Enghelab Street in central Tehran that sells independent and European films. Reza's films are slightly more expensive and his shop caters primarily for arts students.
But the main entertainment market in Iran is run by street vendors who offer DVDs of popular Hollywood movies.
The US films and celebrities that are so popular among Iranian youth have their critics as well. While these critics follow Hollywood news as eagerly and as seriously as the young people, they highlight the negative sides of the industry to their audiences.
The conservative Jomhouri Islami newspaper, run by hard-line cleric Masih Mohajeri, reported on an Iranian filmmaker's protest against Darren Aronofky's movie "The Wrestler". In one scene, a character sets fire to Iran's flag in the wrestling ring.
This newspaper in January also labelled then US president George W Bush a morally "corrupt" individual.
Another film which caused controversy in Iran was "Indecent Proposal", with Robert Redford. In this, the star played a rich man who offers one million dollars to a young couple in exchange for a night with the wife.
Although the story was very exciting for Iranian movie fans, it went against the moral principles espoused by the authorities in Iran.
Amir Mansouri is a journalist in Tehran
This article is an abridged and translated version of the full original text published on the Farsi pages of Mianeh, with editorial adjustments agreed with the writer made to provide clarity for English-language readers.
About Mianeh: Mianeh is a new independent web-based initiative run as a project by the Institute for War & Peace Reporting (iwpr.net) the award-winning non-profit media development organisation that works across the globe to platform local voices and promote international learning and engagement. Mianeh aims to be an open space for ideas, news and debate where writers in Iran can reach out to each other as well as to those outside the country who are interested in learning more about the vibrant and dynamic society that is Iran today.
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