Review, Articles

Iranian classic; Downpour (1972) debut feature of Bahram Beyza’i

Downpour (1972) tells the story of an educated teacher who is transferred to the poor and conservative southern part of Tehran.  When his students misbehave, he expels one of them. The next day, the boy’s older sister Atefeh comes to the school to plead her brother’s case. Smitten by her beauty, Mr. Hekmati is nevertheless reluctant to approach her, especially after he learns that her hand has already been promised to the local butcher. Caught between the hyperactive imaginations of his young charges and the idle gossip of neighborhood busybodies, the idealistic young teacher quickly finds himself at the center of controversy after spending a few minutes alone with a student’s older sister. Soon all eyes are on him, from the woman’s family to her macho paramour, and from fellow staffers to the suspicious, well-dressed men who hover on every street corner, seemingly keeping tabs on all progressive newcomers.

This neorealist classic from pre-Revolutionary Iranian cinema offers a window into a time of great change in Iran, when religious tradition and cultural modernity met head-on. Shot independently on the streets of Tehran in 1971, Downpour won a Special Jury Prize at the First Tehran International Film Festival.

In 2011 it was restored by The World Cinema Foundation, a non-profit organisation devoted to the preservation and restoration of neglected world cinema. The Foundation was established by Martin Scorsese and includes Abbas Kiarostami on its Filmmaker Council. Downpour was restored from a positive print with English subtitles provided by Bahram Beyzaie, the only known surviving copy of the film.

Bahram Beyzaie has commented of his film:

During Downpour, the equations of commercial and intellectual films were the same. The common morality of the action/drama films of the commercial cinema had a tone of political ideology and social activism. The intellectual films were praised for communicating with the mass culture. In that sense, I don’t want to be popular. Many of these (popular) moralities, in my opinion, are wrong and we are all victims of them. So, I have betrayed my people if I endorse them. I have deviated from the morals of the political parties, hence they have labeled me (inaccessible), not the people. At the heart of my harsh expression, there is a love and respect, for the people, that does not exist in superficial appraisals of the masses. … my audiences are those who strive to go one step further, not those who are the guardians of the old equations nor those who dread self examination and self reflexivity.  

Of the restoration Martin Scorsese wrote:

I’m very proud that the World Cinema Foundation has restored this wise and beautiful film, the first feature from its director Bahram Bayzaie. The tone puts me in mind of what I love best in the Italian neorealist pictures, and the story has the beauty of an ancient fable – you can feel Bayzaie’s background in Persian literature, theater and poetry. Bayzaie never received the support he deserved from the government of his home country – he now lives in California – and it’s painful to think that this extraordinary film, once so popular in Iran, was on the verge of disappearing forever.