Smell of Camphor, Fragrance of Jasmine

"OK"

Smell of Camphor, Fragrance of Jasmine Review


The story is that of Bahman Farjami, an Iranian director in advanced middle age who hasn't made a movie since the revolution of 1979, who was widowed five years ago, and who himself has suffered a pair of heart attacks and watched a number of his friends from his filmmaking days die. Farjami hasn't worked because the Iranian censors have denied him a permit, but at the beginning of 2000's Smell of Camphor, Fragrance of Jasmine he's obtained permission to make a documentary for Japanese television about funeral rites in Iran. He's buoyed, if still depressed - the best years of his life have been squandered by the revolution, his mother is terminally ill, his children have moved abroad - and in a spirit of mixed hopefulness he goes about gathering together his colleagues from the '70s. What he finds is more sickness and sorrow; it seems that death is near at hand for all of his old group, himself included, and what started as a documentary about no one's death in particular begins to turn into the story of his own.

Those familiar with new Iranian cinema, which tends often to be semi-documentary in form, will be unsurprised to learn that Farjami is played by Smell of Camphor's actual director, Bahman Farmanara, and that the film echoes details of his own circumstances. Farmanara exhibits a particular animosity toward Iranian censorship - a completely justified position, obviously - and in Smell of Camphor it seems as if he's set out to break as many of these prohibitions as possible: Our hero gives a ride to a woman unknown to him, he takes a stab at Iranian health care, some French is heard (foreign words being forbidden in Iranian film), there's upbeat music (likewise forbidden), our hero prefers solitude (unhealthy and forbidden), a bearded character is portrayed unfavorably, the police are referred to disparagingly, and so forth. (I am not, by the way, making any of these restrictions up, and it's worth noting that recent crackdowns by conservative Iranian factions within the state-run film industry would make this film impossible to produce today, only four years later.) Farmanara himself went without work since directing 1979's Tall Shadows in the Wind. Watching his first-person indictment of the system that robbed him of his livelihood ("I do not fear death," he says at one point, "I fear a futile life."), your heart bleeds for him.

Smell of Camphor is being marketed as something of a black comedy, and while it does include some strange material (our hero is attacked in a swimming pool by dwarves, for instance, and there's a cleric who describes burial procedures that include speaking the name of the deceased three times to his remains before shaking his head with your hands), its tone is one of distress. Farjami is marked by loss, and his encounters tend quickly to transform into meditations on mortality, aging, regret, and oppression. The laughs are rare. And scenes are sometimes wrung for pathos too plainly, as when Farjami reads Edgar Allen Poe's "The Fable of Silence" to his Alzheimer's-afflicted mother, or when he explains that self-flagellation is used to commemorate saints, but not artists. His use of symbol, as in the title syzygy, can be likewise uncertain.

Smell of Camphor, Fragrance of Jasmine is the most direct attack of artistic oppression in Iran to have yet reached the screen, and I salute Farmanara for his commitment to giving the censors' victims a voice. His artistic vision, on the other hand, is hit-or-miss and his material hangs together rather slackly. At one point near the film's end, the director is addressed by, I believe, a duck, who warns him of his imminent demise, and the picture takes a Fellini-esque turn in which Farjami observes his own funeral in surreal detail. The sequence itself is winning but, like the cleric's advice about funerary rites, several landscape shots, and intertitles dividing the film into chapters, it stands out from the core material about this artist's day-to-day life in Iran somewhat jarringly. The effect is less that of a complete vision than a not-quite-successful collage.

Smell of Camphor, Fragrance of Jasmine, newly available on DVD, remains a worthwhile stop for those interested in the still-vital Iranian film culture, and as a warning about the dangers of joining church and state it's bracing.

Aka Booye kafoor, atre yas.



Facts and Figures

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5

Cast & Crew

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

Contactmusic 2017 Exclusive

New Movies

Patriots Day Movie Review

Patriots Day Movie Review

The third time's a charm for Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg, who previously teamed...

A Cure for Wellness Movie Review

A Cure for Wellness Movie Review

It's no surprise that this creep-out horror thriller is packed with whizzy visual invention, since...

It's Only the End of the World Movie Review

It's Only the End of the World Movie Review

At just 27 years old, Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan has an almost overwhelming set of...

Hidden Figures Movie Review

Hidden Figures Movie Review

This film recounts such a great true story that we don't mind the fact that...

The Founder Movie Review

The Founder Movie Review

This is the story of Ray Kroc, the man who created the concept of McDonald's....

John Wick: Chapter 2 Movie Review

John Wick: Chapter 2 Movie Review

Keanu Reeves picks up his supremely efficient hitman immediately where the 2015 original left him:...

Fences Movie Review

Fences Movie Review

After winning Tony Awards on Broadway, Denzel Washington and Viola Davis reteam for a film...

Advertisement
The Lego Batman Movie Movie Review

The Lego Batman Movie Movie Review

A spin-off from 2014's awesome The Lego Movie, this raucously paced action-comedy is proof that...

The Space Between Us Movie Review

The Space Between Us Movie Review

While the premise of this movie makes it look like a sci-fi adventure, the truth...

Toni Erdmann Movie Review

Toni Erdmann Movie Review

On paper, the idea of a two-hour 40-minute German comedy may not seem very promising,...

Gold Movie Review

Gold Movie Review

Based on a true story, this lively and sometimes outrageous adventure is packed with twists...

Loving Movie Review

Loving Movie Review

While this film tackles a huge issue in the history of race relations in America,...

T2 Trainspotting Movie Review

T2 Trainspotting Movie Review

It's been 20 years since we last saw four freewheeling young junkies from Edinburgh spiral...

Hacksaw Ridge Movie Review

Hacksaw Ridge Movie Review

Based on an astounding true story, this battlefield drama mixes warm emotion with intense action...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.