‘The Cycle’, A Classic Iranian Film, Remains Sadly Relevant

Taking its title form a line by Medieval Persian poet Hafiz (“Because of the cycle of the universe, my heart is bleeding), The Cycle tells the story of a young man (Ali, played by Saeed Kangarani) who comes from the Iranian countryside into Tehran with his ailing father (Esmail Mohammadi). Ali and his father quickly discover that they cannot afford medical treatment but are encouraged by a local doctor (Ezzatolah Entezami) to donate blood, illegally, in exchange for cash.

Ali cannot resist the temptations that come with his new life and when he meets another doctor who wants to establish a safer blood bank, Ali does his best to derail these plans. Along the way, he falls in love and watches his father––a source of comfort and a terrific burden––die.

The film, directed by Dariush Mehrjui, is credited with having helped to launch Iranian New Wave cinema, with Mehrjui credited as one of the leaders in the movement. The Iranian New Wave sought to establish a more discriminating viewer, create more realistically minded films, and commingle elements of traditional Iranian culture with elements of European cinema.

Mehrjui began making films in 1966 with Diamond 33 and continues to direct to this day. Inspired by the political climate of Iran in the mid-1970s Mehrjui sought to capture the corruption and abject poverty of his country with The Cycle, a task in which he fully succeeds.

Embroiled with accusations of corruption and catering to Western influence, the Shah’s reign of Iran lasted until early 1979; for much of that time, The Cycle, which is openly critical of the nation and its station during the era, was banned. Despite this controversy––or perhaps because of it––the film became a major feature at international film festivals.

Without knowledge of the era, finding the nuances in the film’s narrative are difficult but the story, universal in its way, and the acting, especially the fine performance from Kangarani, buoy the viewer through those difficult passages. What’s especially moving is the apparent beauty of a country that served as the backdrop for brutality and corruption and the fashion in which its people suffered in those times. Moreover, Mehrjui’s humor and his focus on a rebellious youth transcend concerns of time and place.

An ardent supporter of the revolution in Iran, Mehrjui continued to make films even during times of government scrutiny that came after the departure of the Shah and the reign of Ayatollah Khomeini. Now in his early 70s, the director has also adapted Western texts for the screen, including works by Ibsen and Salinger. Mehrjui’s most recent film is Aseman-e Mahboob.

The extras for this DVD release include a director biography and photo gallery that may seem a bit paltry, given the apparent importance of the film. Nevertheless this serves as a fine introduction to Iranian cinema. The story The Cycle tells, remains sadly, relevant today. Film such as this are almost always worth rediscovering not only for their historic value but also for the ways they remind us how important art is.

RATING 8 / 10