Birth of a Butterfly | Chicago Reader

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Mojtaba Raei's episodic, three-part 1997 feature is a good example of the vital Iranian cinema our cultural gatekeepers rarely allow us to see, without the packaging and automatic charm of Gabbeh or The White Balloon but with plenty of artistic credentials of its own, a film so deeply involved in its own brand of Islamic thought that the absence of easy access to outsiders is part of its special fascination. (This is also true of Mohsen Makhmalbaf's very bad early feature Fleeing From Evil to God, though in contrast Raei is clearly in command of the material.) Filmed in remote mountain areas of northern Iran and Azerbaijan, Birth of a Butterfly can be recommended for its landscapes, compositions, and employment of color. From the first episode, which begins with a montage of abstract rock formations leading to dwellings carved into a hillside, Raei's choice of settings and sense of how to film them is often astonishing—though I didn't always understand what was going on thematically or emotionally, I was held throughout by the enchantment of the natural surroundings. Ironically, the last and most comprehensible episode culminates in kitschy calendar art and a heavenly choir evoking 50s Hollywood religiosity, but prior to that I was reminded more of Alexander Dovzhenko or Sergei Paradjanov. As for the stories, one finds men weeping a lot and isn't always sure why, but the world they're passing through is infused with beauty and magic.

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