Smell of Camphor, Fragrance of Jasmine

on September 08, 2000 by Shlomo Schwartzberg
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   It's a sign of the general high quality of Iranian cinema that a movie like "Smell of Camphor, Fragrance of Jasmine," which doesn't really succeed in its aims, is still more compelling than most of what's out there. And whatever its flaws, the movie is the most hard-hitting film to come out of Iran to date. Directed by Bahman Farmanara, who hasn't directed anything since before the Iranian Revolution, and who stars as the film's titular character, "Smell of Camphor, Fragrance of Jasmine" begins stunningly with its first act, entitled "A Very Bad Day." Director Bahman Farjami, is a put-upon filmmaker whose failure to get a script past the Iranian censors has reduced him to making a documentary for Japanese television on Islamic burial rites. Setting out for his annual pilgrimage to his wife's graveside, he picks up a female hitchhiker who is carrying a stillborn baby, which may have died as result of beating the woman received from her husband. Upon arriving at the cemetery, Farjami finds out that his burial plot has been usurped by someone else, who now lies in his intended resting place.

   That promising opening, startling in its depiction of heretofore taboo subjects in Iranian film (it took Farmanara 11 tries to get the script past the censors), is not sustained. Acts two and three are a messy melange of dream sequences, scenes from Farjami's TV documentary, incidents of his repeated heart attacks and his approach to the portals of death--which, unfortunately, remind one of nothing less than a tepid Iranian version of "All That Jazz." "Smell of Camphor, Fragrance of Jasmine" remains provocative throughout, but whether because of too many script revisions or Farmanara's rusty directing skills, the movie simply doles not hold together.    Starring Bahman Farmanara, Roya Nonahali and Reza Kianian. Directed and written by Bahman Farmanara. Produced by Morteza Shayesteh. No distributor set. Drama. Farsi-language; subtitled. Not yet rated. Running time: 93 min.

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