Friday, June 21, 2024

Titanic, Suitable Version for Iranian Families (short), at UCLA Celebration of Iranian Cinema

Advocates of censorship argue it leads to more social stability, but the opposite is true. It also makes people dumber and impoverishes cultural life. If you doubt any of those points, the staff’s experiences preparing James Cameron’s Titanic for the Iranian state broadcaster will set you straight. It is an exercise in stupidity captured in a brilliant short film. The satire stings throughout writer-director Farnoosh Samadi’s Titanic, Suitable Version for Iranian Families, which screens tomorrow during the UCLA Celebration of Iranian Cinema.

The state broadcaster prematurely announced the premiere of a
Titanic in “suitable version for Iranian families,” creating an online firestorm. The Islamist regime loyalists are offended by the notion that a decadent Hollywood movie could be such an event in Iran. Reform-oriented moderates are put off by the extensive censorship they rightly assume such a broadcast would require. According to staff-members coming in and out of the office-editing suite, at least an hour has already been axed, with more cuts looming.

Don’t start boycotting James Cameron, because the staff—all state employees—readily admit they have pirated the film. In discussions cable networks could relate to, they mostly agree they need to start airing films like
Titanic to compete with satellite dishes. However, they cannot really show Titanic, because they must cut scenes, change dialogue, and add clothing through rotoscope animation—and not just to nude scenes, but also any neckline with more than four inches visible. As if all that were not sufficiently absurd, they are bowdlerizing Titanic while Woman, Life, Freedom protests rage on the streets below.

Fittingly, Ali Asgari, the co-director of
Terrestrial Verses, is thanked in the closing credits, because Suitable Version follows a similar approach. Samadi also utilizes a fixed camera trained on a single space, in which the cast (who would excel in an Iranian remake of The Office, if such a thing were possible) mine the explosive material for drily mordant humor.

This is truly one of those films that you can hardly believe exists, even while you are watching. It is hilarious, terrifying, and absolutely exasperating. It is a tour de force that some gutsy festival programmer ought to pair up with
Terrestrial Verses. Very highly recommended, Titanic, Suitable Version for Iranian Families screens tomorrow (6/22), as part of the UCLA Celebration of Iranian Film.