Smell of Camphor, Fragrance of Jasmine (2000)

“I do not fear death. I fear a futile life.”

After reading that Bahman Farmanara, the director of Scent of Camphor, Fragrance of Jasmine  (Booye Kafoor, atre Yas) is an “Iranian Woody Allen” I couldn’t resist watching the film. Bahman Farmanara was one of Iran’s leading filmmakers in the 70s, but he went into exile after the Islamic Revolution, and recently returned to Iran. The title refers to the lotions used on corpses following death, and to a degree the title gives a foretaste of the film’s mood.

Middle-aged Bahman Farjami’s (played by the director) life starts to go downhill on the fifth anniversary of his beloved wife’s death. He begins the day by visiting her grave and discovers that the cemetery has buried another corpse in the site next to his wife–a site he paid for and reserved for his own future burial. He argues with cemetery officials, and while they insist he’s mistaken, he’s advised to return with a receipt. They are convinced that Bahman is in error and that he must have intended to be buried in the same plot with his wife in some sort of multi-layered arrangement. This multi-layering of bodies within the same site is–Bahman laments–a sign of the times. From this point, Bahman’s life begins to unravel: he’s left with an abandoned body of a dead baby, his brother-in-law goes missing, and Bahman struggles to complete the film he’s currently working on–a documentary about Iranian death rituals made for the Japanese.

While a subtle morbid sense of humour runs throughout the film, it’s a stretch to compare the director to Woody Allen. The morose tone of the film may mask some amusing moments, but it’s difficult to dig through the plot to find much humour. Instead the message seems to be the social degeneration of Iran–from the multiple layered burial plots, to the woman beaten by her husband and who is too afraid to return home with her dead child. The film has its interesting moments, but ultimately is rather depressing. In Persian with English subtitles.


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