Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Marmoulak / The Lizard (Kamal Tabrizi, 2004)

A surprisingly gentle, funny, humane, and yet devout movie from Iran. The hero is Reza Marmalouk, Reza the Lizard (Parviz Parastui), a burglar specializing in climbing. As he enters prison, he encounters a chilly warden who says it’s his job to help the prisoners, a task carried out by sending them to solitary. When Reza accidentally cuts himself he is transferred to the hospital, where he shares a room with a holy man, a mullah, who instead of judging him as a thief speaks very kindly. Reza steals his clothes and escapes, but wanders into a village that has been eagerly awaiting a clergyman. From then on his attempts to escape backfire—not badly, but well, for the villagers interpret his visits to the criminal quarter (where he’s searching for a forged passport) as acts of charity in disguise. His preaching is earthy and inclusive—“There is no one in this world who doesn’t have a path to reach God.” This seems to be the movie’s theme, and somehow he manages to help people discern their paths, and gradually becomes the mullah he’s pretending to be. He still keeps some of his criminal lingo; in a sermon delivered in a jail, he says, “God is the heaviest dude in gentleness, the heaviest dude in kindness, the heaviest dude in friendship, and the heaviest dude in forgiving.” The steely warden tracks him down, and the director Tabrizi leaves the ending open. Reza hands his mullah outfit to a boy, saying that clothing tames people, and people need to be tamed, and he goes off with the warden, who tells his associate handcuffs won’t be necessary. Or does Reza go? The film ends with a beautiful song, with the refrain “I am waiting,” and the police car disappears down the street and the men in the mosque turn as if greeting him—then a freeze-frame with his voice speaking the lines about many paths, and then the credits roll, and several other voice-over lines pop up. Did the warden relent and find his own path? A very funny and moving film, extraordinarily well-acted by Parastui

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