Title: The Mirror of the Soul: The Forough Farrokhzad Trilogy
Length: 98 mins
Director: Nasser Saffarian
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Studio: Facets Video
Country of Origin: Iran
Produced in: 2007
Distributor Link: Facets Video
“The Mirror of the Soul: The Forough Farrokhzad Trilogy” is a documentary released by Facets Video chronicling the life and work of “Iran’s greatest poet”: Forough Farrokhzad. Facets Video you could say specializes in releasing films that are out of the mainstream carrying everything from Asian films, to European, Scandinavian, horror, documentaries, and more. Given this, their choosing to distribute a documentary about a female Iranian poet seems suiting.
Forough Farrokhzad was born in Iran on January 5, 1935 in Tehran and died in a car accident on February 13, 1967. A female poet in a time and place that was extremely male dominated, Farrokhzad was rebellious and caused controversy with her work. In the 1950s, she was the only prominent female poet in Iran. Much of her poetry contained sexual material, and explored her own feelings on a number of issues. The male critics of her society were often negative towards her poetry, criticizing the content for its open discussion of things that were not often discussed, or at least feelings and thought not attributed to women – least of all in public view. She continued to publish her work and by the time of her death had released five collections of poetry containing 127 poems. Farrokhzad would also become involved in film and theater in the 60s, exploring new avenues of expression and ideas.
Directed by Nasser Saffarian, “The Mirror of the Soul: The Forough Farrokhzad Trilogy” contains three distinct sections; each of which is a mini documentary on their own covering a different aspect of Farrokhzad’s life. The first part of this documentary is called “The Green Cold” and delves into Farrokhzad’s personal life. “The Mirror of the Soul”, the second piece, moves into the realm of her poetry; providing the context for her work as well as samples and how it came to be. The final part of the documentary is entitled “Summit of the Wave” and covers her work in both theater and film, primarily focusing on “The House is Black”.
“The Green Cold” interviews key individuals who were close to Farrokhzad such as friends, co-workers, and prominent members of her family such as her sister and more importantly, her mother. It is hard for me to judge the value of these interviews for someone who is already interested in Farrokhzad or knows information about her; I can only judge this part of the documentary as someone who is being exposed to Farrokhzad through it. I applaud Saffarian for using Farrokhzad’s mother for so much of “The Green Cold” as surely there would be no one who would know Farrokhzad better than her mother, but I felt very detached from what I was viewing and was unable to become truly interested. You will learn primarily all they need to know about Farrokhzad’s life in order to understand what she was about, the struggles she faced, and how she looked at the world, and while I know that Saffarian wanted us to feel a great sadness for the story of Farrokhzad, “The Green Cold” never drew that response from me. Overall the interviews were decent and did provide insight into Farrokhzad’s personal life, but despite the fact that much of the time was spent with her mother I found that I was not really that absorbed by this first segment on the DVD.
Part two of the DVD is called “The Mirror of the Soul” and is meant to explore Farrokhzad’s work. Saffarian continues to use interviews with those close to Farrokhzad as well as other Iranian writers and critics to provide the commentary on her body of work, while providing snippets of her poetry in-between. My problem with “The Mirror of the Soul” was not so much in what it was, but what it could have been. It would have been really interesting to hear from other poets and critics outside the Iranian culture – to see how Europeans or North Americans had been affected by her work. I also felt that Saffarian needed to delve far deeper into her poetry than he did. To me this part of the documentary came across as more of a continuation of “The Green Cold” rather than a distinct second piece (and to my knowledge, these are three separate documentaries, shot independently of each other brought together as one for this DVD). There should have been a far greater emphasis on including full poems by Farrokhzad so that the viewer can really see her work for themselves and understand what she wrote. Knowing why she wrote dark work in important, but exploring that work is crucial as well. Saffarian does provide samples of Farrokhzad’s poetry; I just do not think enough to justify the fact that “The Mirror of the Soul’s” primary purpose is to do so.
The last part of “The Mirror of the Soul: The Forough Farrokhzad Trilogy” is entitled “Summit of the Wave” wherein Saffarian covers Farrokhzad’s work outside of poetry, namely her work in film and theater; this was my favourite part of the DVD and for me the most interesting. Saffarian looks at Farrokhzad’s involvement in her film “The House is Black” that documents the lives of a leper colony in Iran. The information provided is solid and it is interesting to see some of the critics who reviewed it upon its release commenting on the film now. If I was to have a criticism of this section it would be that so much time is spent on covering “The House is Black” and not enough on her other work. Maybe she did not explore theater as much as I expected, and Saffarian does discuss that, but I felt like this was more just a documentary on Farrokhzad’s involvement in “The House is Black” rather than Farrokhzad’s work outside poetry. All that being said, on the whole this segment was still a worthy contribution to “The Mirror of the Soul: The Forough Farrokhzad Trilogy”.
A common problem I found throughout the entire DVD was the subtitles that were quite rough at times due to simple grammar and sentence structure problems that were instantly noticeable to me (and I am sure others whose native language is English). Little words are missing here and there making sentences seem broken, and while this is not a problem on every subtitle viewed you will definitely notice it. I also do not understand why the subtitles did not always completely fit on the screen. Usually they would, but some longer sentences would be missing part of the opening and / or ending word. There is just no reason for that. I checked how the picture was set up to make sure I did not have the DVD on the wrong setting, but it appeared to be set up correctly.
Another problem I had was that between interviews or other relevant material. Saffarian would include little pieces (usually 10 seconds or less) showing some scenery and playing what I assume is supposed to be sad music. Used as a transition here and there something like this is okay, but they were relied on too frequently and became overused and redundant. The fact that the editing into or out of these segments was often too abrupt and choppy did not help either. Sometimes it would seem like the song would have another two seconds or so left and it would just be cut off and move to the next segment.
“The Mirror of the Soul: The Forough Farrokhzad Trilogy” is an alright DVD that will provide you with solid information on Forough Farrokhzad if you are interested. Unfortunately the presentation could have been a little tighter and the actual content a little more interesting. I am not saying this is bad, but it could have been better. If anything though, it did at least peak my interest in Farrokhzad’s work enough that I sought out some of her poetry, founding it to be very well done. I enjoy the dark edge present in her work and find her style interesting and unique, as well as completely different than anything I would have expected from a female Iranian poet. If you have sent the DVD and want to know more about Farrokhzad or would like to do some reading on her prior to watching this, I suggest checking out what might be called her “official site”. Below I have included two of her poems that I found online so that you can get an idea of what her style is. This might or might not influence your viewing of this DVD, but I think it is relevant either way. To anyone interested in her work, “The Mirror of the Soul: The Forough Farrokhzad Trilogy” is still worth watching despite its flaws, and unless there is another DVD on Farrokhzad available it will have to do.
I speak of the end of night
of the end of darkness
And of the end of night.
O kind one,
If you come to my home,
Bring me a light
And a nook
From which I may watch the crowding of the glad lane.
Return with me to that star,
Return with me
To that star far away
from the frozen seasons of the earth and its
ways to measure and understand
Where no one fears light.
Return with me
To the start of creation
To the fragrant core of a fertilized egg
To the moment I was born from you
Return with me, you have left me incomplete.