“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I will meet you there.” (Jalal ad-Din Rumi)
Revolutions can bring great advancement, but they often bring pain and chaos in their wake. Septembers of Shiraz is the story of an Iranian Jewish family that must cope with the uproar of the Iranian Revolution. The film opens with a wonderful celebration of family and friends shortly before the Revolution. Isaac (Adrien Brody), the patriarch, is a prosperous jeweler. They are preparing to send their son to America to boarding school. Soon, however, the situation deteriorates. One day Isaac is arrested and taken to prison where he is questioned, tortured, and held without trial. His family has no idea if he is alive or not. His wife Farnez (Salma Hayek) must protect herself and her daughter. In time the family must sacrifice all they have to escape from Iran. (So, of course, there is a tense mad dash to get to the border.)
While we often think of the cruelty of these events as tied in some way to Islam, what we see is not based in religion. Rather it is class warfare. That plays out a bit in the relationship between Farnez and her housekeeper (Shohreh Aghdashloo). Farnez has considered their relationship to be one of friendship, but we see that the role of servant is not the same as a friend. The persecution Isaac faces is not because he is a Jew, but because he has prospered in the system under the Shah that has been done away with.
I think it needs to be noted that this is not an Iranian film. This is a film made by American filmmakers about a country with which we have a history of trouble. That is not to say I think the film sets Iran in a bad light. What struck me in the film is not how barbarous the Iranian Revolution was, but how similar it was to so many other revolutions. The ones that especially came to mind were the Russian and French Revolutions. In both, after deposing the ruler, it soon devolved into a kind of mob rule which took on the trappings of equality. In France, everyone was “Citizen”; in Russia, “Comrade”. Here everyone is addressed as “Brother” whether they are oppressor or victim. The goal here (and I think this is true of the French and Russian Revolutions as well) isn’t some ideological standard, but vengeance for past inequality—punishing those who profited from past oppression, even if they were not an active participant.
Always these kinds of revolutions claim to be acting in the name of justice. Yet often the new order, as it tries to right past wrongs, ends up creating its own injustices. Perhaps that is why the filmmakers open the film with the quotation from Rumi above. It is calling up to look beyond those things we believe are right or wrong (or even of righting wrongs) and meet not in a battle, but as community.