This is the 10th year the Iranian Film Festival has been screened in Australia. The organisers aim to showcase the best current Iranian cinema and introduce Iranian culture to other Australians through them.

Many of us know little more about Iran than its ‘rogue state’ status, particularly concerning its development of nuclear weapons, and the suppression of civil liberties by its authoritarian government.

Iran has a long and rich history in cinema and often the best way to understand this unfamiliar country is to engage with the stories its filmmakers tell us about their homeland. When we do this, we learn that Iran is much more than the caricature portrayed in much of our media. It is a complex state: it is wealthy and sophisticated with high educational values, but it also grapples, as so many cultures do, with poverty, drug abuse and domestic violence.

For this preview, Iranian friend Mona and I watched two films that will feature in the upcoming Festival.


The first film we watched was TiTi by Director/Writers Ida Panahandeh and Arsalan Amiri.

The title character, TiTi (Elnaz Shakerdoost), is a cleaner in a hospital where physicist Ebrahim (Parsa Pirouzfar) is being treated for a brain tumour.

TiTi and Ebrahim become entangled when he discovers that she has salvaged some papers he had been working on in the hospital and desperately needs to recover to complete his theory of black holes.

There is a lovely moment when Ebrahim first visits Titi in her home and finds his (still readable) calculations, covered in TiTi’s colourful and naïve art.

Misunderstanding his science, this uneducated woman identifies Ebrahim as the potential saviour of humanity from an expanding black hole, and she sets out to save him through her own mystical ‘science’.

TiTi is strong. She has saved money to buy land, and now she’s saving money to build her own home. She raises her finances not just through her work at the hospital but through being a surrogate mother for childless couples. She is pregnant throughout most of the movie.

But TiTi is also mistreated and misunderstood, and she becomes caught between two domineering and unworthy men: the professor and her fiancé. Her fiancé exerts the more obvious and crude violence against her. But the professor, at first kind, is revealed as a controlling and manipulative man: it is TiTi who, in the end, gives him insight into his behaviour.

This is a film about many things: among them motherhood, kindness, native wisdom, and male control.

TiTi will open the Festival on 27 May.

  • Drama, Iran, 2020, 102min
  • Director & Producer: Ida Panahandeh, Arsalan Amiri
  • Writer: Ida Panahandeh, Arsalan Amiri
  • Cast: Elnaz Shakerdoost, Parsa Pirouzfar, Houtan Shakiba
Three Puffs

Written, directed, and produced by Saman Salour, Three Puffs follows young couple Mojtaba and Nasim, who, with their new baby, live an impoverished but seemly happy life in the slums of Tehran.

Mojtaba makes ends meet by selling disposable plastic dishes, and Nasim makes plastic dolls at home.

When Mojtaba has a car accident, Nasim’s life spirals out of control as she comes to realise her husband has not only been smoking crystal meth but has invested their life savings in becoming a small-time dealer. To save her husband, Nasim is forced to sell the remaining drugs herself.

Iran is at the confluence of the global trade in crystal meth, and it has become a significant problem in the country. Some suggest Western economic sanctions on Iran have contributed to its reliance on cross-border smuggling, and with it have come the drugs.

Mohsen Tanabande as Mojtaba, and Parinaz Izadyar as Nasim, are excellent in this realistic and gritty portrayal of the destructive force of crystal meth. But it is not easy going on this journey with them into Tehran’s underworld, even if the ending does offer us a glimmer of hope.

The subtitles for both films were not always as clear as they should be, Mona said, but for me, as a non-Persian speaker, both films were easy to follow.

  • Drama, Iran, 2020, 95min
  • Director & Writer: Saman Salour
  • Producer: Sasan Salour
  • Cast: Mohsen Tanabande, Parinaz Izadyar,  Samira Hasanpour, Matin Sotoude, Amin Miri,  Maryam Boubani, Yadollah Shadmani, Fateme Neyshabouri, Alireza Mehran, Mahmoud Nazaraliyan.
The Festival

The full 2021 line-up includes ten films selected in competition.

“This year despite the COVID pandemic we have had a very strong year for Iranian cinema, enabling us to present a fantastic and diverse range of films for our audiences in Australia. We are delighted to present three films from female filmmakers this year including opening night film ‘Titi’ by Ida Panahandeh; we pay tribute to the acclaimed director Kambuzia Partovi with the premiere of ‘his final film The Truck (Kamion-2018)’ our closing night film, and we present a focus on the culture & music of the Southern Iran (next to the Persian Gulf) showcasing two documentaries, ‘Chicheka Lullaby’ and ‘Sebaloo’, and Manijeh Hekmat’s recent hit, ‘Bandar Band,” Festival director, Armin Miladi, said.

The Iranian Film Festival starts on Thursday 27 May and runs until 2 June at Elizabeth Picture Theatre in the city.

Jan Bowman with Mona Moradi-Vajargah

Image from TiTi supplied.