Director: Mohsen Makhmalbaf
Once Upon a Time, Cinema almost defies description, as the complexity and imagination director Makhmalbaf brings to it produces a dazzling visual roilercoaster, which sweeps the viewer along. From the opening shot, we are hypnotised by this film-within-a-film in which characters jump in and out of the screen, time leaps back and forth, and film footage from the whole history of Iranian cinema is woven into this mesmerising 'Purple Rose of Tehran'!
A photographer (obviously modelled on Charlie Chaplin) travels Europe to learn about cinematography, which has just been invented. Bringing the new discovery back to Persia, it becomes apparent that this Aladdin's lamplike magic lantern machine can literally cast a spell on reality. The old Shah, initially an opponent of cinema, falls passionately in love with the heroine of a damsel-in-distress epic (significantly she has long, thick tresses and no headscarf) who, every time she falls off a cliff in the film, ends up in his court. The photographer, initially rewarded with an appointment as filmmaker to the Shah, discovers that even art goes awry, and ends up pitching his next project from the gallows!
Fast-paced, wacky and shot in luminous black and white, Makhmalbaf describes his film as a '1001 nights' of Iranian cinema, and it is his love for a cinema that refuses to sell false dreams that makes his own uproarious, cinematic fairy tale so memorable. A must for the cineastes.