Displaced Allegories

Post-Revolutionary Iranian Cinema

Displaced Allegories

Book Pages: 216 Illustrations: 123 illustrations (28 sequences) Published: November 2008

Cultural Studies, Media Studies > Film, Middle East Studies

Following the 1979 Iranian Revolution, Iran’s film industry, in conforming to the Islamic Republic’s system of modesty, had to ensure that women on-screen were veiled from the view of men. This prevented Iranian filmmakers from making use of the desiring gaze, a staple cinematic system of looking. In Displaced Allegories Negar Mottahedeh shows that post-Revolutionary Iranian filmmakers were forced to create a new visual language for conveying meaning to audiences. She argues that the Iranian film industry found creative ground not in the negation of government regulations but in the camera’s adoption of the modest, averted gaze. In the process, the filmic techniques and cinematic technologies were gendered as feminine and the national cinema was produced as a woman’s cinema.

Mottahedeh asserts that, in response to the prohibitions against the desiring look, a new narrative cinema emerged as the displaced allegory of the constraints on the post-Revolutionary Iranian film industry. Allegorical commentary was not developed in the explicit content of cinematic narratives but through formal innovations. Offering close readings of the work of the nationally popular and internationally renowned Iranian auteurs Bahram Bayza’i, Abbas Kiarostami, and Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Mottahedeh illuminates the formal codes and conventions of post-Revolutionary Iranian films. She insists that such analyses of cinema’s visual codes and conventions are crucial to the study of international film. As Mottahedeh points out, the discipline of film studies has traditionally seen film as a medium that communicates globally because of its dependence on a (Hollywood) visual language assumed to be universal and legible across national boundaries. Displaced Allegories demonstrates that visual language is not necessarily universal; it is sometimes deeply informed by national culture and politics.


Displaced Allegories certainly makes a valuable contribution to the growing field of Iranian cinema studies. Perhaps the greatest strength of this book is the interweaving of the detailed textual analyses of several acclaimed films, which help to clarify and extend Mottahedeh’s arguments. . . . I found Displaced Allegories to be an interesting and valuable examination of the subtleties of a different kind of contemporary women’s cinema.” — Tess Van Hemert, M/C Reviews

Displaced Allegories is a timely book because it bridges the global universalism of high theory with a local situation. That it does so while realising the sympathetic but unlikely potential of 1970s feminism, in a subtle and nuanced adaptation of its fundamental premises, turns Mottahedeh’s account of globalisation from opportune to fascinating reading.” — Darren Jorgensen, Media International Australia

Displaced Allegories makes a vital, original and important intervention into the theorisation of post-Revolutionary Iranian cinema.” — Michelle Langford, Senses of Cinema

“Mottahedeh’s book is a leap forward. . . her argument is elegant. . . It is refreshing to hear an actual argument about Iranian cinema, rather than an appeal that we pay attention. Mottahedeh’s book is not boosterism, but critical history of the enthusiastic variety.” — Bidoun

“Mottahedeh's Displaced Allegories must be seen as a major and welcome intervention into the field of Iranian cinema studies. Beyond inspiring students of Iranian film and cultural studies, one hopes that the work will also challenge other film theorists to look anew at Iranian cinema, reframing the application of feminist film theory to non-Western cinemas.” — Kamran Rastegar, Feminist Review

“Negar Mottahedeh’s exegesis of post-revolutionary Iranian film underscores the dynamic alternative it presents to dominant Hollywood cinema, which is famously centered on a voyeuristic gaze.” — Jyotika Virdi, Jump Cut

“Negar Mottahedeh's critical study of post-revolutionary Iranian film industry, Displaced Allegories, is an intelligent, stimulating, and well-written analysis of ‘a woman's cinema’ after 1979. . . . This fascinating book will be of interest not only to feminists, film studies students, and scholars, but to any aficionado interested in Iranian culture and literature.” — Anna Hamling, Feminist Review blog

“The perceptive and lucid introduction to Negar Mottahedeh’s book is likely to be included on the reading list for every course on Iranian cinema from now on, as it articulates important observations on non-Western cinematic traditions and simultaneously displays excellent command of feminist film theory, semiotics, apparatus theory, and reveals a deep understanding of the discourse on national cinemas.” — Dina Iordanova, Middle East Journal

Displaced Allegories is a compelling and provocative book. With a remarkable talent for closely reading and analyzing films, Negar Mottahedeh examines some of the most important films produced in post-Revolutionary Iran. She offers a multilayered analysis of the tension between continuity and change, transgression and submission, and compliance and resistance inherent in the films.” — Farzaneh Milani, author of Veils and Words: The Emerging Voices of Iranian Women Writers

Displaced Allegories is an extremely timely book. Negar Mottahedeh treats the issues of nation-building and the veiling of women together, demonstrating the various ways they are co-implicated in Iranian films. Questions of feminine sexuality and desire are shown to have a national-political purchase in Mottahedeh’s analysis. This not only produces more complex interpretations of the films than a focus on just one issue or the other would have allowed; it also ‘updates’ the still important but by now slightly tired feminist concerns that have motivated a significant strand of film theory since the mid-1970s.” — Joan Copjec, author of Imagine There’s No Woman: Ethics and Sublimation

“Finally, a book about post-Revolutionary Iranian cinema that is not another general or political history of that cinema but an innovative, sustained, and rigorous analysis of it using film theory. Displaced Allegories is a highly original work.” — Hamid Naficy, author of An Accented Cinema: Exilic and Diasporic Filmmaking


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Negar Mottahedeh is Assistant Professor of Literature and Women’s Studies at Duke University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Illustrations ix

Acknowledgments xi

Introduction: Producing a National Cinema, a Woman's Cinema 1

1. Nationalizing Sense Perception: Bahram Bayza'i 15

2. Cleansing Vision: Abbas Kiarostami, Le Secret Magnifique 89

3. Negative Aesthetics: Post-Revolutionary Iranian Cinema and 1970s Feminist Film Theory 140

Notes 169

Bibliography 183

Index 193
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4275-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4260-1
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