Copyright Featured Image and Page Header Image: Sazmane Cinemaie Panaroma.
The meaning is in the eye of the beholder.
Bahram Beyzaie in an interview in 1995: “My primary concern with a film is that people will actually enjoy watching it. I have never intended to impose a second or third layer of meaning on my films. But it seems this has nothing to do with my intent. It somehow happens in and of itself. When these second and third meanings are discovered they really excite me.” Source: Dabashi, H. (2001) Close Up. Iranian Cinema, Past, Present and Future. London/New York: Verso, p. 86
The opening shot of Ragbar (Downpour; Bahram Beyzaie, 1972) sets the tone right at the start.
- The main character, the new teacher Mr. Hekmati, arrives at his new lodgings, his few belongings are stapled at a pushcart. The neighbourhood-children are a nuisance. His mirror falls in pieces, this is a bad sign for his future. He carries the empty frame into his room. It is clear: his identity is erased. His past will fade away.
- The memory of his mother is symbolized by a precious lamp, the moment he sees the young woman passing by, he let this lamp fall out of his hands and it shatters into pieces. The memory of his father is symbolized by a collection of books, he throws down the book case half way the film.
This film is partly realistic, partly mythical. It has many possible layers. The meaning is in the eye of the beholder.
- First, you could say it is a story about one man confronted by public opinion. He is an intellectual in a community of poor people, an outsider who is victim of gossip and rumors.
- Secondly, he also is a new teacher in a primary school, dominated by a lack of educational method and care for the pupils. After many difficulties and humiliations he triumphs because his pupils adore him and reward him with excellent performances at the school-show in the theatre-hall that he helped to restore.
- Thirdly, the protagonist is also a clumsy man who loves a beautiful young woman, Atefeh. He has to conquer her and defeat a menacing competitor, the rich and strong butcher. Near the end of the film the two rivals get drunk together in a stunning night scene. The rain symbolizes the moment of climax, the shifting of the story to a bitter end. The film has a perfect title.
- Fourthly, the film could also be seen as a metaphor of the divided society during the dictatorship of the shah. The female lead combines fashionable short skirts of the sixties with a chador. And the blind figure with dark glasses could refer to blind fate in general but also in a more political metaphorical sense to the Secret Police. In this interpretation the end of the film shows how the idealistic intellectual and cultural activist who brought education and arts to ignorant people is transferred into exile.
Ragbar is filmed on location in South Tehran, with harsh natural light and dark nights and claustrophobic interiors. The film style is crude and effective, many scenes are hallucinatory like a dream or nightmare.
It is almost like a silent movie, everything is told in images. Sometimes the dialogues are not heard, the sound-track is often filled with comment through dominant music and sounds. The acting is unpolished, the dialogues are dubbed.
The dynamic, bold film style is comparable with the work of other independent directors, like for instance the films of Glauber Rocha or Werner Herzog.
Hamid Naficy on Downpour
“ Downpour [-] established a theme Beyzaie would revisit in later films, among them Stranger and the Fog and Bashu, the Little Stranger: a community’s fear of an outsider (or group of outsiders) who has arrived in their midst, upsetting that community’s traditional harmony and relations of power, and unleashing strong reactions of attraction and repulsion. Only after the stranger’s removal can the community return to an apparent, if uneasy, harmony.[-] Beyzaie introduced what was for him the first of many strong, distinctive female protagonists. His films Ballad of Tara (1979) and Death of Yazdgerd (based on his own acclaimed play, 1982) were long banned in Iran, apparently partly because of their representation of unveiled women. [-] The film’s structure of vision and power has three layers: the desirous exchange of looks and words between the two protagonists; the invasive looking at, and gossip about, the protagonists from Mr. Hekmati’s fellow teachers, the children, and the villagers; and the state’s controlling gaze at Iranian society. [-] Downpour ends by mourning the passing of honest and heroic men. Significantly, Mr. Hekmati’s departure does not return the neighborhood to its former state of equilibrium, for it has been changed as a result of his efforts; even Atefeh has been changed by him and by her affection for him. Mr. Hekmati becomes a martyr of sorts, his life and untimely figurative death serving to nourish and bolster the community.”
- Source: Naficy, H. (2020) ‘Downpour: Furtive Glances’. https://www.criterion.com/current/posts/7121-downpour-furtive-glances
Shahla Mirbakhtyar on Downpour
“Although the teacher is supposed to be the mysterious character of the film, a stranger about who little is revealed, the true mystery of the film is what Atefeh is hiding in her mind and heart.[-] It seems apparent that the filmmaker was not interested in providing answers to some of the film’s questions, leaving the audience in doubt about the situation and giving the film both a symbolic and political dimension.”
- Source: Shahla Mirbakhtyar, Iranian Cinema and the Islamic Revolution, Jefferson: Mc Farland, 2006, pp.75.
“Downpour’s story revolves around Mr. Hekmati (Parviz Fannizadeh), an educated and progressive teacher who is transferred to a school in the south of Tehran, a poor conservative area. When his pupils become unruly, he expels one young boy. The boy’s older sister, `Atefeh (Parvaneh Masoomi), comes to the school and protests the expulsion, speaking to Hekmati in private. Another student sees them together and spreads rumors that Mr. Hekmati and `Atefeh are having a love affair. As Hekmati tries to set the record straight, he suddenly finds he really is in love with her. Caught between the overactive imaginations of his students and the idle gossip of neighborhood busybodies, the idealistic Mr. Hekmati quickly finds himself at the center of controversy. Soon all eyes in the community are on him.
A rich story that explores love as much as it does control and morality, Downpour addresses Iranian society in a way that reveals what is intimate and poignantly familiar in our human condition.”
- Source: https://genevaanderson.wordpress.com/2013/04/27/interview-iranian-filmmaker-bahram-beyzaie-discusses-downpour-his-newly-restored-classic-of-iranian-cinema-screening-at-the-56th-san-francisco-international-film-festival-sunday/
- Saeed Talajooy (2023) Iranian Culture in Bahram Beyzaie’s Cinema and Theatre. Paradigms of Being and Belonging (1959-1979). London: I.B. Tauris.
- Shahla Mirbakhtyar, Iranian Cinema and the Islamic Revolution, Jefferson: Mc Farland, 2006, pp.72-76.
- Saeed Talajooy, ‘The Downpour’, in: Jahed, Parviz (ed.) Directory of World Cinema: Iran, London: Intellect Books, 2012, pp. 147-151.
The only available print of Ragbar (with English subtitles) was restored in 2011 by the World Cinema Foundation at the laboratory of L’Immagine Ritrovato (Bologna) and was screened at the Cinema Ritrovato 2013 festival. Source: http://www.cinetecadibologna.it/vedere/programmazione/app_5024/from_2013-06-30/h_1730