An early encounter in Smell of Camphor, Fragrance of Jasmine humorously, but astutely illustrates the aimlessly resigned plight of the impassive, perennially unemployed director Bahman Farjami (Bahman Farmanara) as he apologetically acknowledges to a former actor turned businessman that he hasn’t made a film in 24 years. The episode, which occurs after Bahman visits the wife of a writer friend, Farzaneh (Parivash Nazarieh) to provide assistance and moral support after the unusual disappearance of her husband, alludes to the reality of the frustrating, often uncertain fate of the middle-aged filmmaker’s contemporaries in post-Islamic Revolution Iran. (Note that the ominous recurrence of unofficial arrests and assassinations among intellectuals and artists in modern day Iran is a subject examined by Thierry Michel’s documentary, Iran Veiled Appearances). The admission of protracted creative inactivity, which Bahman reveals as he rides in a residential elevator with the retired actor, compels the latter to wistfully remark, “You have these dreams only when you are young.” It is also a fitting summary of failure and regret that has defined the ailing Bahman’s seemingly predestined “bad day” – a solemn occasion that marks the death anniversary of his beloved wife Jaleh that is further marred by his son Nima’s inability to return home for the memorial due to his wife, Jasmine’s advanced stage of pregnancy, a subsequently grim, early morning encounter with a polite, but anxious battered housewife (Roya Nonahali) reluctantly returning home to her abusive, unemployed husband, and Bahman’s discovery that the adjoining cemetery plot that he had reserved beside his late wife has been sold to another family (as the disreputable caretakers attempt to trivialize the incident by offering another plot elsewhere, rationalizing that most husbands would not elect to be buried next to their wives after the marital discord they experienced during their lifetimes). Incorporating moments of tragicomic surreality – the operatic requiem that greets him from a passing funeral procession as he returns to his car (to find the hitchhiker’s morbid, unintentionally left package); a strangely ominous and violent nightmare involving a seemingly tranquil swim at an empty, indoor pool; the garish spectacle of his pre-arranged funeral for a Japanese television documentary – Farmanara creates a complex and incisive portrait of the lost idealism of an aging, counterculture generation still struggling to find a means of personal expression after persevering through the creative suppression of a secular, totalitarian regime (under Shah Reza Pahlavi) only to find a substituted form of censorship instituted after the revolution. By reflecting Bahman’s inutile existence through humor and recurring situational absurdity, he transforms his somber, self-reflexive meditation on unrealized ambition, alienation, and mortality into a thoughtful and purgative human comedy on survival, optimism, and resilience.
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