Iran Books

Homesick in the Dark

Behnam Nateghi, a journalist and television producer, wrote these lines after seeing a series of Iranian films showing at New York's Lincoln Center in 1992.

For this former film critic, seeing the films of today's Iran is not only a cinematic curiosity, but a bitter-sweet adventure of going home. In the movie theater, I walk through the light to the streets of my youth. It is like dreaming of going home.

I have a recurring dream of arriving at Tehran airport and finding it crowded and filled with demonstrators. In various versions of the dream, I always go through huge traffic jams, stand in block-long lines for taxis, jam into crowded smelly buses full of ideological militants; I lose my way in the maze of familiar streets with strange names, deformed by Iraqi bombs, or covered with angry posters.

But I never reach home. There is something between me and home, where my parents, relatives and friends await me anxiously. For me seeing the Iranian films was at times accompanied by the frustrations I feel in these dreams; of being there and not really getting there.

I am not just a film enthusiast, but a curious voyeur, hungry for images of my compatriots, trying to take in as much as possible in moments when the camera lingers on something, or on a place I can recognize. Then memories would rush to my head and I would wish for the story in the film to stop and for the camera to pan around.

I want to see more of it. I become a nostalgic expatriate home after a long and painful absence -- the tearful traveler in the land of his youth.

My heart sinks at the sight of the winding mountain road to the Caspian Sea, which I traveled as a young man; I am the runaway grandson who recalls afternoon teas as a teenager under the blossoming cherry tree by the pool with his now departed grandmother, when on the screen, a lady's hand places the crystal bowl of water with floating fresh lilacs on the table beside the calligrapher's pen.

Through waves of clear water shimmering in the bowl, the colorful flowers of the Persian carpet below dance to the rhythm of floating lilacs. I want so much for the man kneeling at the calligrapher's desk to be my grandfather, who, like the character in the movie "Pomegranate and Cane" ("Nar-o-Ney" - 1991), showed me how to sharpen a pen made out of
cane; I want so much to see, even for a few hours today, the land and the people I left behind so many, many years ago.

I knew I was going to indulge in the masochistic ritual of expatriates cut off from their home, who once in a while gather together and cry hard for a few hours from nostalgia and pain of separation; to torture myself with the sense of loss, with being tearfully helpless as sweet memories come back triggered by the images on the screen.

Yet, like a voyeur, I have the luxury of a point of view with the comfort of not being looked back at. I could stare at the faces of my friends on the screen without feeling embarrassed or embarrassing them. And when I step outside the movie house, I'm in New York.

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Last Updated: 18-Jan-96
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