Iran’s media court has banned Paternal House, a movie by the veteran Iranian filmmaker Kianoush Ayari, after only five days of it being screened in cinemas — its second ban since it was made almost a decade ago.
The film, produced in 2010, was finally re-released on October 23 — only to be pulled again days later. Although officials objected to what they described as “violent scenes,” its portrayal of an honor killing is controversial, and so could be a chief reason for the ban.
Ayari defied earlier threats made against him if he chose to screen the film abroad, and it was premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2012.
He then had to wait three years for a permit from the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance for it to be publicly screened, although it had received the ministry’s initial approval to be produced. Eventually, the ministry issued it a limited screening permit in February 2014, during President Rouhani’s first term as president.
Fars News Agency, which is affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards, suggested the ban on the film, which was issued by the prosecutor for the media court, had been re-instated due to “violent scenes” that should have been removed. But a source close to the director who was involved in the production of the film told IranWire that the alleged failure to remove violent scenes was simply an excuse to ban the movie — and was given as the only justifiable and credible reason.
“The scene that was called violent had been fixed,” the source said. “This is certainly not the reason why they banned the film. But we must wait to find out what the real reason was. At the moment, everybody is shocked.”
If, as Fars News Agency has suggested, the film was banned again because of scenes of violence, then why did it take the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance’s review board six days after the film was screened to notice that the scenes of violence it objected to were still intact?
According to the ministry of culture’s procedures, a board reviews all movies before they receive a permit for screening. If it decides that scenes or dialogue must be changed or removed, the director is then informed. Before the October 2019 release of Parental House, Iran’s official news agencies, including the Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA), had reported that it would be released with “minor changes” and given a rating of “over 15.”
On the second day after the film began screening, the hardline newspaper Kayhan, an entity that works under the supervision of the Supreme Leader’s office, accused cinema authorities of “negligence.” for their decision to allow the film to be screened. “After a ban of 10 years,” the article in Kayhan read, “a film that presents a derogatory and barbaric picture of Iran within the framework of an old house is now being screened due to the negligence by cinema authorities.”
However, objections to the screening had started the very first day of its release, beginning with Ahmad Salek, a cleric and member of the parliament, who branded the movie as “anti-family” and accused it of having “anti-(Islamic) values.” Salek demanded that the minister of culture make sure the film had no further screenings, and for the media court to issue the banning order as soon as possible. He went so far as to claim that the film was part of a “cultural infiltration” plot by Iran’s enemies — an accusation that has been routinely used against culture, the media and also against dual nationals, in recent months. Like other officials before him, Salek said the plot was designed to create tensions within Iranian society.
“Until I am officially informed, I cannot take this news seriously,” director Kianoush Ayari told Ensaf News when asked about the renewed ban. An hour later, the public relations office of the Iranian Organization of Cinema and Audiovisual Affairs confirmed the news.
In the years since his movie was first banned, Ayari had said that any change to the controversial scenes in his movie were “destructive” and that he was against them.
Made in 2010, Parental House narrates events in an old house from 1929, during the early years of the Pahlavi dynasty, to 2000. The film starts with a shocking scene in which a young woman is murdered by her father and brother who believe she has shamed the family — — an “honor killing” — and then bury her in the basement of the house. The film also looks more generally at violence against women.
After acquiring a permit in February 2014, Parental House was banned the same day it was first screened following objections from several cultural and religious conservatives. “Where is the logic for the public screening of such a movie when it portrays the history of our nation in such a way?” Morteza Agha-Tehrani, the deputy chair of the parliament’s cultural committee, told Fars news agency.
Hardliners once again spoke out against it after the recent permit was issued on October 23. A day after the movie opened in theaters, Javad Shamaqdari, who conservatives refer to as an “Islamic values” filmmaker, and who served as deputy minister of culture under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, called the screening of Parental House a “cultural crime.”
What riles critics of the film more than anything, it seems, is the way that the house comes to symbolize the whole country: the destruction of the “parental house” is stepped up with every scene, and the film portrays every state of its decadence and downfall. Some commentators say that this interpretation and assumed generalization is the main reason behind hardliners’ criticisms and the ban.
Yet when it was first screened in 2014, Iran's Film Critics and Writers Association praised Parental House and the film won the association’s prize for best script and best director.
Just an Excuse
In an interview with the Center for Human Rights in Iran in the summer of 2015, Kianoush Ayari said there was only one violent scene in the movie, and that this scene was used as an excuse to ban Parental House — an excuse that seems to have been repeated for the recent ban. “The scene where the boy is ordered by his father to beat his sister with a rock only lasts a few seconds,” he said. “That’s the only violent scene, which is nothing compared to similar scenes in other films that are screened without any problem in the cinemas. So it’s clearly an excuse. It looks like there are other interpretations that have caused this film to be banned.”
"It has been mentioned that this film has a tendency to reject Islamic behavior, but I don’t accept this view," Ayari said. "That interpretation is completely wrong. Were this interpretation true, then they would have not banned the film for one violent scene, because even if this scene were to be cut the film still could not get a permit to be screened. Of course, I had no interest in removing the film’s basic theme, its main outcry — the scene where the girl is hit on the head with a stone — so that the movie can been screened. I have repeatedly said that this scene has a special importance in the totality of the film. It is so vital that it is better not to see the movie if the scene is removed.”
Kianoush Ayari has been one of the most prominent Iranian movie directors since the establishment of the Islamic Republic following the 1979 revolution. However, Paternal House is not the only work by him that has been censored or banned — causing him both artistic and financial problems throughout his career.
His fourth film, The Other Side of Fire (1990), was screened in only one theater. Two Halves of an Apple (1991) was very successful at the box office but authorities cut the screening short. Officials also prevented The Abadanis (1993) from being submitted to the Cannes Film Festival and it was also screened for only a short time. Wake up, Arezoo! (2004) was screened at an arthouse 13 years after it was banned, but did not enjoy general release, and Canapé (2016) was banned, and remains banned, because actresses in the film had shaved their heads and covered their heads with wigs instead of hijab.
“From the first film that I have made until this day, when the time for screening comes I have always encountered problems,” Ayari told the newspaper Iran in an interview. “But I think these problems have more to do with the system of cinema in this country than with me.”