Notes from a Video Store Burnout 

An enlightened trip down the New Release aisle

The life of Iranian writer-director Mohsen Mahkmalbaf could be a film in itself. At the age of seventeen, Mahkmalbaf was committed to the Islamic Revolution, a fervor that led to four years in prison for stabbing a police officer. After the revolution he became a playwright, eventually turning to the cinema to express his increasingly humanistic view of life. Since 1983, Mahkmalbaf has made twenty features. It's a distinguished body of work marked by films both harrowing for their blunt depiction of human misery (The Peddler, Marriage of the Blessed) and deeply reassuring for their faith in the abiding beauty of a people and its culture (The Silence, Gabbeh). Where the extremes coalesce stand the comic gems (The Actor; Once upon a Time, Cinema). To achieve such a range of effect, Mahkmalbaf has employed a wide range of styles. They add up to a portrait of an artist who has come to believe that the simple truths of love and compassion can only be discerned from multiple perspectives. In Marriage of the Blessed (1989), a shell-shocked veteran of the Iran-Iraq war, a former photo-journalist, returns to Tehran and is incensed at the abject poverty he finds there. Though crippled by flashbacks, he struggles to rebuild his life and, with the help of his fiancée, documents the social decay around him. Mahkmalbaf spares no one--neither Iran's revolutionary government nor the bourgeois forces that would undermine it--in a savage critique of the ideology and indifference that threatens to tear the country, and a couple, apart. In the much less politicized and wildly manic The Actor (1993), roles are reversed as a hapless film star must contend with the mental instability of his wife, who cannot forgive herself for being unable to have a child. Mahkmalbaf plays much of the actor's travails for eccentric laughs--at one point, he drinks tea that his wife has laced with a boy's urine at the advice of a fortune-teller. At the film's tender heart, however, love becomes an act of endurance and is made all the more profound as a result. Marriage of the Blessed and The Actor are being released on VHS by Facets along with four other Mahkmalbaf features: Boycott (1985); Once upon a Time, Cinema (1992); The Peddler (1986); and The Cyclist (1989). In addition, the collection includes the documentary, Stardust Stricken, Mohsen Mahkmalbaf: A Portrait, by Iranian critic Houshang Golmakani.

Also released this week:

VHS: Rat Pack's Las Vegas.

VHS/DVD: After the Storm, The House of Mirth, Just One Time, The Klumps 2: The Director's Cut, China II, Shadow of the Vampire, Spin the Bottle, The Trio, Two Family House, Wilderness.

DVD: The Celluloid Closet, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, A Few Good Men: Special Edition, Tootsie.

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