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Losing their way in the Middle East 

There are a pair of 40-minute Middle Eastern films screening at the Dryden Theatre this Saturday (September 6). Each makes its Rochester debut and each arrives with buckets full of praise from people whose hearts go out to the ridiculously oppressed citizens of the countries represented by the shorts (Yemen and Iran).

            I don't know if I was in a particularly foul mood when I watched them (admittedly, it was the same night Jack got the boot on Big Brother), but neither The Lost Film nor Trial did much for me. In fact, each came close to being a little silly. Let's break it on down and see if I was off my nut or really do have an uncanny ability to see through a storm of BS.

            Lebanese filmmaking team Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige once made a film called Around the Pink House. On the 10th anniversary of the unification of Yemen, a copy of said film disappeared from said country under purportedly mysterious circumstances. A year later, they took their cameras to Yemen, where movies are considered to be sinful, in an attempt to learn what happened to their print of House.

            What follows is the cinematic equivalent of wearing a New York Yankees jersey into the bleachers at Fenway Park. Hadjithomas and Joreige come off as crazy paranoids, and they should be, too. They're doing something they know they shouldn't be doing, which is especially irritating when we all know their search is going to be completely fruitless. And they do it all wearing Western clothing!

            But wait --- there's more. Moslem Mansouri's Trial is a documentary whose subject is equal parts Cecil B. Demented and Harvey Pekar. There's a guy in Khosro ---- a brickmaker by trade --- who has written a ton of books and made a dozen-and-a-half 8mm films. That's all illegal without governmental permission in Iran (as should making films like Le Divorce be in this country), so this guy was sent to the slammer for several years until he promised not to do either again. What's more, they made every resident in Khosro sign an agreement saying they'd all go to the clink if they helped him with his dusty multimedia empire.

            So in Trial, this guy jeopardizes his neighbors by making one last film, just so Mansouri can record the process. We get to see his guerrilla-style pictures, which are typically about his life and his job and his co-workers and his friends. But Trial boils down to a documentarian potentially securing for an entire village a one-way ticket to the pokey, while also providing additional proof (via film) of their crime. This would be like somebody aiding O.J. Simpson's defense by videotaping his ex-wife's decapitation. And how funny would it have been if Mansouri showed us clips of this guy's films, and he turned out to be like an Iranian Ed Wood?

Interested in raw, unsanitized movie ramblings from Jon? Visit his site, Planet Sick-Boy (, or listen to him on WBER's Friday Morning Show.

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