Director Kamal Tabrizi’s film begins with a daring prison escape by convicted thief and anti-hero Reza, jailed for life for being caught one too many times.
Injured in a prison brawl and sent to the infirmary, Reza finds the robes and turban of a cleric and slips out of jail undetected.
He then discovers the benefits of life as a holy man in the northwestern holy city of Mashhad, and keeps up his charade.
What happens next is a moral transformation – the one aspect of the film that could at least please the most hardened clerics.
After preaching in prisons and even at weekly Friday prayers where worshippers become captivated by his simplicity, Reza becomes a respected religious figure and a man who finds God himself.
But there is also an underlying criticism of the men of the cloth who have ruled Iran for the past 25 years.
Firstly, Reza’s easy-going style – including sexually suggestive jokes and even speaking of “brother (Quentin) Tarantino,” the US film director – brings people flooding back to the mosques.
Coupled with this is the message that God and the various
interpretations of the Quranic message are accessible to all – even a convicted thief who should under Islamic law have his hand cut off.
If the film has one message, Tabrizi says, it is to “say to the
clergy that in order to survive and to maintain their contact with the people, they should accept criticism.”
“The reception is excellent, as it was predicted”
The censors certainly had a hard time getting their heads around the film, forcing a one-month delay in its public screening – so its premiere would not be in the holy months of Muharam and Safar – and prompting rumours that the movie might even be canned altogether.
According to press reports, the head of the hardline Iranian
judiciary, Ayat Allah Mahmud Hashimi Shahrudi, even watched the film twice and ordered a special committee be set up to give its opinion.
Finally, the committee gave the green light for the film to go on show, albeit minus some of its more controversial dialogue deemed too shocking for some of the harder men of the cloth.
Now being screened in 18 cinema halls across the sprawling
capital and benefiting from weeks of hype in the local press,
already a box office smash, it won the best film award at the recent Fajr Film Festival in Tehran.
“The reception is excellent, as it was predicted,” said one
cinema manager in the north of the city. Several halls reported selling out five days in advance.