In the opening scene of the Iranian film, Gabbeh, viewers are confronted with a riot of colour‑colourful costumes, bright scenery and a dazzling gabbeh (hand made rug), woven by Iranian nomads. Some viewers have wondered whether this is a colour overkill but there is an interesting story behind this.
Film maker and director Mohsen Makhmalbaf found through the 1980s that he was becoming more and more out of step with the Iranian fundamentalist regime. Film makers had to get permission from the government to make films, and, as Makhmalbaf was increasingly becoming a vocal critic of the government, all his requests were turned down.
An organization that sold Iranian handcrafts approached him with the request that he might make a documentary that might boost sales of the gabbeh. Makhmalbaf submitted the proposal and the government thought this subject was innocuous and would mean he would not be annoying them if he was making a movie about nomadic carpet makers in the back blocks of Iran.
The film maker turns up the colour not for aesthetic reasons but to make a prophetic statement. The Iranian government had become prescriptive about the clothes Iranian women were to wear and required that they be clad in grey, brown or black. Makhmalbaf’s use of colourful costumes, and colourful rugs made from nature’s colourful dyes are his attempt to challenge the severity and oppression of the government.
The film maker is a prophet who will not be muzzled as he seeks a way to get his message across. Like tellers of parables Makhmalbaf presents a documentary about nomadic rug makers but within this story he weaves revolutionary threads to declare that life is colour. Regimes that are turning life into a narrow black and white existence are challenged to give people the freedom to weave the story of their lives out of the colourful threads of creation.
Sources: Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s film, Gabbeh, 1996.
Godfrey Cheshire, Audio Commentary and article ‘A Carpet of light: Gabbeh’ (on the Special Features of the DVD)
Image: Picture from the film, Gabbeh.