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  Chess of the Wind Look At The Graves
Year: 1976
Director: Mohammad Resla Aslani
Stars: Fakhri Khorvash, Mohamad Ali Keshavarz, Akbar Zanjanpour, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Shahram Golchin, Hamid Taati, Agha Jan Rafii, Anik Shefrazian, Majid Habibpoor, Javad Rajavar
Genre: Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: The matriarch of this wealthy Iranian family has recently died, but instead of mourning all they can think of is, who's getting their hands on the loot? It appears that anyone who wants the reserves of money will have to go through Lady Aghdas (Fakhri Khorvash), who happens to be confined to the large mansion in 1920s Tehran the family all gravitate towards since she does not have the use of her legs. She propels herself around the upper floor in a wooden wheelchair, assisted by her maidservant (Shohreh Aghdashloo) who she may have been more intimate with than society really allows...

Chess of the Wind, or Shatranj-e baad if you were Iranian, was very nearly a lost film after the Ayatollah Khomeini seized power there and promptly set about having his regime ban all sorts of culturally offensive material - that was, material they found culturally offensive. The problem with this particular item was that they did not like the lesbian undertones (which were fairly mild), and even more than that, they did not like a movie with strong female characters, so director Mohammad Resla Aslani saw his hard work destroyed, and found it very difficult to get his work made thereafter.

Ah, but it was not completely destroyed. VHS copies survived, and though they looked terrible it appeared this was the only way to watch what had been regarded by some as a lost masterpiece. Not many took up the champions' battle cry to reclaim it from the religious conservatives, and it dwindled into obscurity after a not exactly huge impact in the first place. But then the director's son, keen to support his father, found a cans of the film on celluloid in an antique store in Iran, and suddenly people were talking about Aslani. The reels were in need of attention, of course, but that's what they received.

Martin Scorsese stepped in and his film preservation foundation restored Chess of the Wind whereupon it won the admiration of the critical thinkers everywhere. Getting the casual film fan's attention was more difficult, but word of mouth spread its reputation, which leads to the ultimate question: was it as good as they said? It was true that the plot unfolded in a crepuscular gloom that did not make the finer points any the easier to follow, but this was the very definition of a slow burn as the already sinister atmosphere almost imperceptibly soured and buckled under the machinations of the family who know this fortune is their last chance to be rich, and they are not about to allow Aghdas to get it all to herself.

With a Greek chorus of washerwomen who mirror the main plot by both commenting on it and growing ever more demented every time we return to them, if you could exploit the tension of those early scenes and stick with this, the rewards were significant. Fair enough, something this ornate and indeed grim was not going to be everyone's cup of tea, but as a glare into the old saw that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, Aslani appeared to be making the same observation about greed. It all exploded in a final act where the family go completely crazy, almost feral in their lust for the inheritance, a remarkable sequence shot in the gloom of candlelight; some perceived Luchino Visconti's influence in this tale of a clan sick to their bones, others Stanley Kubrick, certainly in the visuals, but Chess of the Wind was too culturally specific to be anything apart from beholden to itself. It was also Aghdashloo’s debut, the beginning of a stellar career. Music by Sheyda Gharachedaghi.

[Click here to watch on MUBI.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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