The screening of ‘Dash Akol’ (Iran 1971) at the San Francisco Art Institute was a special event for the first evening of the fifth annual Iranian Film Festival this weekend. The festival honored the Iranian composer Esfandiar Monfaredzadeh. One of his major works, ‘Dash Akol’ (1971) directed by Masud Kimiai commanded a full house. He later shared his experiences in film scoring with the audience. The composer now lives in Sweden.
‘Dash Akol’ is based on a short story by Sadegh Hedayat, the story of a man (Behrouz Vossoughi) from Shiraz who falls in love with Marjan (Mary Apick), the daughter of the late Haji Samad. Akol’s mortal foe is the uncouth Kaka Rostom (Bahman Mofid) who constantly seeks to wrestle him from his power and diminish his respect. Everywhere he goes he engages with crude laughter with his cohorts.
Dash Akol, a brave and honorable man, is appointed on Samad’s deathbed to be the executor of his estate. He considers the duty the end of his freedom where his “hands and feet are bound”. At the funeral of his friend he meets Samad’s daughter Marjan and immediately falls in love. He is so obsessed with her that he gets drunk every night before returning to the estate. Not even the persuasion of the dancer Agdhas at a local tavern can steer his thoughts away from his hopeless situation. Everyone knows of his sorrow and he keeps Marjan’s black handkerchief with him always.
One day, the son of a wealthy man asks for Marjan’s hand in marriage. Out of duty, Dash Akol arranges the marriage. Seeing his weakness and despair, Kaka Rostam challenges him to a duel and later stabs Akol with his sword when his back is turned. From his own deathbed, Dash Akol sends Marjan a parrot, his only possession, trained to speak the declaration of love to her that killed him.
Masud Kimiai and Esfandiar Monfaredzadeh were friends from youth and together created a somber highly stylized film set in 1932. The work of cinematographer Nemat Haghighi is brilliant in capturing the historical period and artfully filming the physical spaces of the story. The opening credits foreshadow the spirit of the film with the movements of a man in white slashing the air with skillful sword moves.
The choice of black and white film stock was made to evoke the historical period set in early 20th century Shiraz. There are abundant closeups where facial expressions and events are often accompanied by the film score without dialogue. This usage of sound and image contributes to the film’s contemplative nature and cinematic form. However, ‘Dark Akol’ is also theatrical since many of the scenes are confined to large rooms, halls, and the interiors and exteriors of caverns. The acting follows theatrical conventions as well.
In one special scene, Dash Akol prepares for the duel with Kaka Rostam in a sandy training ring. His crude bodybuilding equipment includes swinging two huge blocks of wood and moving circuitously with outstretched arms within the arena.
When Dash Akol finally stands face to face with Kaka Rostam it is during the passion play of Imam Hussein. The townspeople gathered for the holiday move quickly within the spaces of the city hall. Kaka Rostam has boasted that he will expose Dash Akol’s falseness “like a counterfeit coin”. When the two first meet in battle, their faces are superimposed, rendering them like two sides of a coin.
Marjan’s wedding includes a women’s party indoors at Haji Samad’s estate with female musicians and dancers. The arranged marriage means that Dash Akol will no longer be the man of the house.
Sadegh Hedayat’s story is full of platitudes such as ‘a man’s sorrow is an ocean of sadness’, ‘only a woman can make a man bow down’, and ‘life has problems that one must suffer alone’.
The gender roles are strict. The faces of the men in 1932 Shiraz are scarred from frequent fighting with swords and chains and the women wear burquas and dutifully attend to the men. When men engage in their fights they are challenged to defend their manhood, often by comparing their adversaries to old women or prostitutes. A young man who serves at a cavern laughs hysterically in one scene evoking a film by Fellini or Pasolini. He is later attacked by Kaka Rostam and put in his place.
Other films composed by Esfandior Monfaredzadeh include ‘Gheisar’, ‘Reza, the motorcyclist, ‘Baluch’, and ‘Ghazal’ – all with Masud Kimiai.
Today both Mary Apick (Marjan) and (Behrouz Vossoughi) (Dash Akol) live in California.
A schedule of the films and show times are featured on the festival website: iranianfilmfestival.org. Advance tickets can be ordered online.