Close Up

2 October 2021: The Deer


The Deer
Masoud Kimiai, 1974, 127 min
Persian with English subtitles
Introduced by Ehsan Khoshbakht + video introduction by Masoud Kimiai

“For two consecutive decades and in various Iranian critics' poll, The Deer has occupied the very top place as "the best Iranian film ever made." Known for his rape/revenge drama Gheysar (1969) – which changed the course of Iranian cinema – director Masoud Kimiai (former assistant to Jean Negulescu and Samuel Khachikian) adds an explicitly political dimension to the story of his typically defiant characters. Here, in a nod to Hollywood's "buddy film", the familiar hero of Iranian popular cinema is prompted into social action, far beyond the usual romantic conquests. There is a sense of an imminent revolution in this story of a former champ turned junkie who reunited with a leftist classmate and is redeemed by revolutionary anger. Picking up where the anti-hero of Gheysar left, the leading character (Seyyed played by versatile method actor Behrouz Vossoughi) again takes the law into his own hands and challenges the established order.  

Premiered at Tehran International Film Festival in November 1974 but opened in Tehran cinemas with a year-long gap (on 28 January 1976), the film severely suffered from censorship. Vossoughi whose performance in the film had just garnered him award for the best actor at the festival – a prize given to him, ironically, by Empress Farah – was summoned to the secret police headquarters to assure that The Deer was not a guerrilla film and that his friend in the story was nothing but an ordinary bank robber. Eventually, the secret service forced Kimiai to shoot an alternative ending (in which the protagonists surrender to the police), the only ending seen by general public until the 1979 revolution when the original finale was restored. Despite the censorship, every sequence of this moving political manifesto resonated with millions of Iranians and the film stayed in circulation for a long time, with some of the screenings adding more tragic undertones to the film. At the peak of the revolution, the Shah's army opened fire on protestors in front of a Cinema Nahid screening the film. (Today marked in calendar's as "Black Friday.") Around the same time, the Islamists burned down Cinema Rex in southwest Iran, while people were inside watching The Deer, which led to the tragic death of more than 300 people. Almost unseen outside Iran, this is a rare chance to see a poignant and essential moment in film history when cinema and politics clash.” – Ehsan Khoshbakht