"SMELL OF CAMPHOR, FRAGRANCE OF JASMINE"|
(In Farsi with English subtitles)
93 minutes | Unrated
Opened: Friday, June 1, 2001
Directed by Bahman Farmanara
Starring Roya Nonahali, Reza Kianian, Valiyollah Shirandami, Hossein Kasbian, Mahtaj Nojoomi
Repressed Iranian director satirizes his government and himself in dark comedy 'Smell of Camphor'
Iranian director Bahman Farmanara hasn't been allowed to make a movie in his country for 23 years. He's earned a living doing foreign documentaries and television, but ever since the Islamic Revolution, each script he's submitted to government censors for approval (a prerequisite in Iran) has been rebuffed.
Then he came to them with a black comedy about a filmmaker whose repressive government hasn't green-lighted any of his movies for two decades, and for some reason they gave it the thumbs-up.
The result is "Smell of Camphor, Fragrance of Jasmine," a meditative, shrewdly humorous farce that features Bahman playing a fictionalized version of himself as he becomes obsessed with mortality in the wake of some weird close encounters with death.
Already having lost most of his enthusiasm for life ("When a filmmaker doesn't make films, that is death," he says), he's feeling especially morose on the anniversary of his wife's passing away, and when he visits her grave, he discovers the plot he reserved next to her has already been filled.
Over the next few hours Bahman begins to realize this just isn't his day. He encounters a woman running away from her abusive husband who leaves her stillborn baby in his car -- something not easily explained in a police state. He learns his philandering brother-in-law has disappeared (again) and to calm his sister starts checking hospitals and morgues -- a nasty business that's much easier said than done. And just for good measure, he has a small heart attack.
None of this reads funny, I know. But with each incident Bahman (the director, not the character) is making an ironic commentary on the ugly, oppressive underbelly of his strict Islamic society.
Inspired in part by Federico Fellini's surreal film-within-a-film "8 1/2," Bahman moves on to a second act in which he begins making his own funeral arrangements as research for a mockumentary that will eventually evolve into this very film, "Smell of Camphor, Fragrance of Jasmine."
In the third act, he begins scripting dialogue for the movie's early scenes (which we've already seen) before the whole process begins to really mess with his head. After a second heart attack, is he a ghost at his own funeral or is he directing a scene from his film in which he plays a ghost at his own funeral?
Bahman Farmanara is a better director than he is an actor, and "Smell of Camphor" is no work of art. But once you catch on to the picture's abstruse sense of humor, it's increasingly amusing to partake of his sly resourcefulness as both a social satirist and a self-deprecating victim of his own anxieties.