Coming to virtual cinemas today, Wednesday, August 19:
London, CPH:DOX, Göteborg, Palm Springs, Vancouver, Mill Valley, Ashland, Taormina
An exhaustive exploration of secrets behind the 1953 Anglo-American coup of Iran.
Often revelatory, particularly for Western audiences whose earliest reference point for Iran/American relations is the 1979-1981 Iran hostage crisis, filmmaker Taghi Amirani’s comprehsnive look at the roots of the Iranian revolution in the 1953 coup that deposed popular prime minister Mohammad Mossadegh is a decade-long passion project. In ways both good and bad, it shows. To the film’s detriment is its excessive meta-filmmaking elements: Amirani (and, to a lesser extent, acclaimed editor Walter Murch) appears extensively throughout the film’s first half, detailing his research process, including superfluous scenes with him asking people if he can use the archival materials they are clearly providing him. While this first hour does provide necessary historical background and context for what follows, particularly in how the filmmaker discovered and pieced together uncensored transcripts for a 1985 British docuseries that prove key to the revelations that follow, there’s also a lot of material here that should have been cut. It’s no coincidence that things pick up in the second hour, after Amirani no longer appears on screen, underscoring that he did not belong in it in the first place and that the film’s meta elements likely could and should have been conveyed in a different manner. With Amirani out of the way, the film becomes a fascinating, layered examination of political intrigue, positioning the ouster of Mossadegh as the pivotal covert operation that emboldened both the UK and the US to intervene in and destabilize democratically elected governments around the world in the decades that followed.