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In Focus:  Two films from Iran about cooking and independence

In Focus: Two films from Iran about cooking and independence

Author: Kathy Warren

This program introduces viewers to cultures around the world through the accessible medium of feature film.  Viewers complete projects appropriate to their interests and expertise, to gain a deeper knowledge of the cultures.

This tutorial is part of a social studies program that introduces viewers to cultures in Asia, Africa, South America, Eastern Europe and the Middle East through film clips from feature films made by native speakers. 

Film clips are supported by activities and projects that encourage exploration of aspects of filmmaking, elements of the cultural setting, and the context of characters and stories in the films. 

Activities may be completed as individual projects or may be shared by viewers with similar interests.  Viewers are encouraged to upload their work into this site, thereby building and contributing to shared knowledge and understanding of the culture.

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IN FOCUS: Two films from Iran about cooking and independence


FILM: The Fish Fall in Love


Source: The Global Film Initiative,

FILM: The Fish Fall in Love

SETTING: A fishing village on the Iranian shores of the Caspian Sea.
SCENES 1, 2 & 3: The motel where Aziz is staying. A cafe where Aziz meets with his old friend Younes. A bench on the sea wall, where Younes tries to convince Aziz to sell his house.
SCENE 4: Aziz buys passage to return to Tehran, and makes a phone call.
SCENE 5: A seaside cafe, where Aziz has a reunion with another old friend, Rahmat, who tells him of Atieh's past.
SCENE 6: Restaurant Atieh.

Source: The Global Film Initiative,


CREATIVE WRITING:  Aziz was jailed as a political prisoner during the revolution which brought the Ayatollah Khomeini to power, echoing the experience of the filmmaker, Ali Raffi, who was jailed for criticizing censorship.  Unlike the filmmaker, Aziz spent the time since his release wandering, rather than returning to his career as an architect.  Use narrative, diary entries or screenplay to describe what happened to Aziz in those wandering years.  What changed in his life that would bring him home?

CREATIVE WRITING:  "Women talk too much when they want to hide their feelings":  When Atieh sees Aziz for the first time after more than twenty years, she doesn't allow him to speak before promising to pack up and leave.  Why is Atieh so quick to give up her livelihood?  Use narrative, diary entries or screenplay to describe this character's frame of mind:  what does she think will happen if she keeps the restaurant open?  What will she do if Aziz accepts her promise to leave?  Suggestion:  compare Atieh's fears with the feelings that kept Aziz from coming home.

GPS:  Locate fishing villages on the Iranian shores of the Caspian Sea where this story could have been filmed.  What are the political, ethnographic, economic and other factors that contribute to the culture of this region?  Upload pictures that illustrate locations that might have been used in making this film, along with narrative or diary entries describing the setting.

SUBJECT MATTER EXPERT:  Are you familiar with shipping and other industries (such as fishing and oil) on the Caspian Sea?  Do you have memories of vacations on the Iranian shores?  How does the cuisine of this region compare with other regions of Iran?  Use narrative or diary entries to describe your experiences.  Upload recipes and photographs to share with other viewers.

FILMMAKER:  The filmmaker uses reunions with two old friends to re-introduce Aziz to Atieh, once the love of his life, who now runs a restaurant in his house.  Compare the conversations Aziz has with Younes, in a cafe and then seated on a bench on a sea wall, and with Rahmat, in his seaside cafe.  How does the filmmaker use the characters themselves, their conversations, the settings and other devices to give Aziz an unsettling and contradictory impression of Atieh? 

FILM: Border Cafe (Cafe Transit)


Source: The Global Film Initiative,

FILM: Border Cafe (Cafe Transit), Scenes 1 & 2

SETTING: A town in northwest Iran, on the border with Turkey.
SCENE 1: Reyhan's house, which she is refurbishing.
SCENE 2: The restaurant on the highway, closed after her husband's untimely death. Reyhan prepares the restaurant for re-opening, assisted by Oujan, a former long-time employee who had worked for her husband.

Source: The Global Film Initiative,

SUGGESTED ACTIVITIES: Border Cafe, Scenes 1 & 2

CREATIVE WRITING:  Although Nasser's feelings toward Ismael, Reyhan's husband, are not explored in the film, Ismael's restaurant is just down the road from Nasser's own.  Create a scene between the two brothers that explores their relationship, in the family - and as business owners competing for travelers along the same stretch of highway. 

GPS:  Locate towns on the northwest border of Iran where these scenes could have been filmed.  Upload pictures that illustrate locations that might have been used in making this film.

SUBJECT MATTER EXPERT:  1) Does the conflict between Nasser and Reyhan seem familiar to you?  How have you seen such conflicts resolved?  Use narrative or diary entries to describe the context for this conflict, and to explain how you would expect it to be resolved.  2) Is the cuisine familiar?  What is Reyhan serving?  Upload recipes for similar dishes to share with other viewers in this group - and stories of memorable occasions when they were served.

FILMMAKER:  These scenes establish the relationship between principal characters and support exposition of the story line.  If you were asked to give notes to one of the actors about his or her portrayal of one of the characters, which character would you choose?  What would you suggest in your notes?  How would you re-imagine the scene to add dimension to the character?

FILM: Border Cafe (Cafe Transit), Scenes 3, 4 & 5

SETTING: A town in northwest Iran, on the border with Turkey.
SCENE 3: The restaurant on the highway, where an unexpected visitor has spent the night.
SCENE 4: Challenged by officials, Reyhan must defend her choice to provide for her children by running a restaurant, rather than joining Nasser's family.
SCENE 5: The restaurant. Reyhan decides to shelter the visitor.

Source: The Global Film Initiative,

SUGGESTED ACTIVITIES: Border Cafe, Scenes 3, 4 & 5

CREATIVE WRITING:  The Russian girl, Esrita, says she has been "wandering" for a year, and that her family was killed in a war.  What war do you think it was?  How do you think Esrita escaped?  Why do you think she needs to be in Italy?  How would you compare the risks Esrita seems to be taking with the risks Reyhan takes in challenging Nasser?  Use diary entries or narrative to compare the motivations of these two women. 

GPS:  Compare the culture of this border town on the highway, with the fishing village on the Caspian Sea that is the setting of The Fish Fall in Love.  Both are "crossroads" towns, potentially influenced by travelers and an economy based on international shipping.  As presented in these two films, what similarities do you observe in the two settings?  What contrasts?  Using geographic, economic, ethnographic and other sources, build a map that "overlays" the influences that create distinctive cultural regions in Iran.  Use narrative or journal entries to interpret the settings of the two films in light of your analysis.

SUBJECT MATTER EXPERT:  1) In your experience, is the interrogation presented in Scene 4 realistic?  Who are the officials who question her?  How would you expect Reyhan's case to turn out?  2) Reyhan asserts that women have more freedom in the region where she was raised.  In your experience, where in Iran might Reyhan be from?  Using journal or diary entries, describe how the experience of women varies among different regions in Iran. 

FILMMAKER:  In Scene 4, we hear the voices of officials interrogating Reyhan, but we do not see them.  What impact does this have on the other characters in this scene?  What other dramatic devices does the filmmaker use to establish the tone of this scene?  How would you compare this scene with an interrogation in a "police procedural"?



BACKGROUND: Vital Statistics, History and Context for Film Settings


RESOURCES: Links to maps, news sources and articles about Iran