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Smell of Camphor, Fragrance of Jasmine
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by Greg Muskewitz

"It smells of masterpiece."
5 stars

If films were to have a scent associated with them, “Smell of Camphor, Fragrance of Jasmine” would be lovely to sniff. So much so, that to continually inhale it, it would be better than any drug on the market —not that I know from experience, but just per se. (Actually, back in 1981, John Waters’ employed the use of scratch-n-sniff cards called “Odorama” to ensure that you could experience the terribly offensive smells along with the characters.) As it is instead, the eyes and mind are given a special treat without the sense of smell in Bahman Farmanara’s first film in 24 years.

An aging filmmaker by the name of Bahman Farjami, has his life paralleled to Farmanara’s own, and happens to be played by him as well. (Admittedly, there are many similarities — some of which I will try to point out — but others are purely fictionalized events.) Still consumed by the death of his wife five years prior (true), the solemn, somber man is attempting to make a documentary for Japan on Iran’s funeral rituals. (Sort of like Abbas Kiarostami’s “The Wind Will Carry Us.”) However, the director’s friends (many playing themselves, or other friends playing made-up roles) and family confusedly mistakes that he is making the documentary on himself.

The beautifully poignant film addresses issues of life, death and love in a most mature, staid and cerebrative way, for as wise as the depicted characters are, even they readily admit they are still learning. It reminded me of my high school graduation when my mentor, Duncan Shepherd, wrote a letter to me saying that he looks forward to hearing what I have to say on the current movie, because “education never ends!” These wise words couldn’t be any more understated, and this film is a perfect example of staying open to that idea. As a strict work of fiction, knowing nothing about any parallels or similarities, the film attains an enviable amount of intrigue and percipience, but once you learn of some of the origins and ties to reality, it becomes so much more fascinating. The immediate reaction one might have after the film, particularly after Farmanara’s dedication to his wife in the credits, is assume that all of the film is an adjustment and alteration on his life. But that is not the case; for more about Farmanara, and where he draws the line, I recommend Thom’s interview with him (readily accessible in the “features” section).

Certain films, no matter how much of an impression they make on you, reserve a silence over some of it; words cannot describe accurately how invigorating and illuminating the experience the motion picture leaves you with, and I am barrenly left to describe “Smell of Camphor, Fragrance of Jasmine” as one of the very best films I’ve seen this year. And the juxtaposing of life and death (life is said to smell like Jasmine, while death has a petrichor-like resemblance to Camphor) through the character of the director in the middle of his crisis, opens gates of imagery and metaphors. (At one point he says, “I don’t fear death, but a futile life,” while he hasn’t — like Farmanara — made a film in 24 years, hardly a far cry of leading a futile life.)

With Roya Nonahali, Reza Kianian, Hossein Kasbian, and Mahtaj Nojoomi. Written by Farmanara.
(Also, see Thom’s interview)

Final Verdict: A.

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originally posted: 06/14/01 18:40:12
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User Comments

8/05/03 golnoosh omid 4 stars
1/31/01 Nima F Incredible 5 stars
1/01/01 mohammad tavakkoli great 5 stars
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