Posted by: shanedillon | September 18, 2009

My City, My Pizza (2008) my personal review of this wonderful and insightful Iranian film.

My City, My Pizza maybe a short film documentary however the film rewards with truly great insights into urban Iran. See the great city of Tehran through pizza, superfcially maybe but the film I think takes a global commodity like pizza to unpack contemporary Iran. Indeed this original approach lends the film a comedic quality a far cry from powerful but serious films from Iran like 'Blackboards'.

So what does pizza represent for the denizens of Tehran? a tasty alternative to sheeps head with a side order of trotters? Or a dastardly western plot to undermine a thousands years of Iranian cuisine. Surely it won'nt be long before the golden arches of western cuisine; McDonands set up on the hungry streets of Tehran. (have they
already?)

To answer this question and more the documentry maker Ala Moshen canvasses opinion.  Like East European Films released during the communist era you can if you wish read between the lines. The film skillfully edits peoples opinion on pizza to illuminate the divisions within Iranian society between Modernism and traditionalism. On one side is a pizza owner who extolls the virtues of pizza and later in the fine traditions of nationalism hints that pizza may indeed be an Iranian not an Italian creation. Husbands bemoan the rise of pizza as wives opt for the convenience of pizza over a night at the stoves staring at a sheeps head. Like western families convenience cooking and eating out are a creeping norm. Young people pitch in with the opinion that pizza parlours offer place to eat, bring a girl and enjoy a taste of the west. Like an Iranian episode of Happy Days and the Fonz is perhaps Iranian after all.

For a country detached from the west for over thirty years, pizza parlours offer an opportunity to indulge western food. Well it beats burgers from Macdonalds of which communist Russia and it's middle class got a glimpse in the early eighties. So for the pro pizza party we have a resounding yes we can approach to pizza as It signifies cuisine liberation.

So what of the forces ranged against pizza? Well we could simply write these of as the Sheeps Head Preservstion Society. However the film resists for the most part adopting a mocking tone. They are not held up for Borat inspired ridicule though some scenes do exude some indirect comedy moments. One such moment occurs in reaction to pizza providing a social scene for young people as one gentleman offers his  idea of fun   "My playground, I go to the cemetry after work". Laugh  we may but who hasn't witneesed the crowds at Highgate Cemetry in London.

More serious are  the views from those who fought or lost family in the Iran-Iraq war. There approach to pizza teases out I think not a rejection of modernity but a suspicion of western cultural imperialism based more on nationalism rather than religious fundamentalism. As we get deeper into the film views become darker and we get an insight into a more religious approach and out of the blue one mans gives us his secret to happiness, an " injection once every two years to make lust and desire go down."

The film also deals with Iranian identity. Is it an accident that pizza is chosen as the subject or metaphor? I do not think so. In our globalised world each nation has a place at the table; the Irish bar a touchstone for brand Ireland. The Italians; take your pick pizza or the Godfather? Maybe cinema itself offers an explaination. We can be grateful to Italy for championing Iranian cinema and introducing it to western audiences. In particular the work of the film director Kuristami. Like Iran, Italy to has suffered under the yoke of dictatorship and even today vestiges of that dictatorship linger on.  

Iran has a plurality of power centres; religion, nationalism and a body politic that is difficult to read. Is our Reading of Italian politics any less easy? Perhaps they are and by no means do I intend pushing the comparison far. Italy is a democracy, EU member and were for the most part the rule of law applies. However at base level in interviewee opines 'Italians and Iranians are siblings. We look like italians.'

To sum up, the film offers us a view of Iran while different shares something with Westerns societies as we to grapple with modernity and a longing for tradition. Like those in Iran who hasn't come across a person who decries fastfood and longs for and pays handsomely for traditional organic food, buying from the Prince of Wales duchy range.  

On the fringes of the green movement we get a longing for a return to a pre urban more pastoral society. Views that might have resonance with conservative elements within Iran. We to perhaps are grappling with a palimpsest of what Iran is experiencing. The rise of militant secularism in the west a vanguard of modernity coming up against western Catholism that is no longer dispensed to the supposed modernity of western capitalism How this game between modernity and tradition is played out at vastly differnt speeds in the west and Iran. We began with pizza so lets end in the knowledge that North Korea's Kim is massive fan of Italian cuisine including pizza. So Italy, Iran and North Korea could form an axis of pizza in a world awash with American hambugers.

Posted via email from Projecting hope and despair.


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