It is interesting that since the days that George W. Bush labeled Iran as part of his ‘axis of evil’ (it seems so quaint in hindsight – almost cutesy), Iranian cinema has had somewhat of a renaissance period with films winning prizes at Cannes, Venice, London and even an Academy Award. It seems like all of the political rhetoric simply fuels a public interest in the country and its way of life. Iranians are clearly very skillful at exploring their modern history in intelligent and exciting ways, from the fascinating film about young girls being denied access to a football game in Offside (2006), to the graphic novel adaptation of Persepolis (2007), to the truly unpredictable film about a family deciding whether to leave the country or not in A Seperation (2011).
It is hardly controversial to suggest that cinema, although exciting and engaging, has trouble with accuracy in its representation of history. All films are reductive by nature must edit events into a narrative that focuses on certain pivotal scenes and motives for the sake of austerity and entertainment. There are thousands of worthy films with good intentions and plenty of hideous revisions of history (Pearl Harbour?). The questions with films that are ‘based on a true story’ like Argo then, are does it tell a good story with admirable intentions? Or is it just typical American-exceptionalism with a convenient ‘historical’ context?
The film is set in 1979 during the events of the Islamic revolution and the hostage crisis that occurred in the U.S embassy – an affront that America has yet to fully recover from. The story follows the C.I.A agent Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) as he concocts a plan with a Hollywood producer (Alan Arkin) and a make-up artist (John Goodman) to smuggle 6 US citizens out of the country under the pretense that they are a movie production team scouting locations for a sci-fi b-movie picture. A zany postmodern scheme that manages to split the film nicely between Hollywood, where the plot is being concocted, and Tehran where the hostages are fearing for there safety and the streets are running wild with revolutionaries. The calm comedy moments of America are juxtaposed with the serious drama moments in Iran – artfully highlighting the inherent differences between the two cultures, before showing the obvious triumph of American ingenuity and wit over Iranian naivety and brute ignorance. This said though, excusing the questionable ethnic politics, the film is very enjoyable in terms of pace and execution, the editing and post-production on the film are superb and it looks great.
The accuracy of the plot has been contested (see these articles), yet regardless of the specifics the plan itself is an audacious ruse that makes for perfect Hollywood fodder. A film about a fake film being simulated to manipulate America’s geopolitical and cultural enemies? Standard Hollywood output. If the rumours are true that the Iranians are planning a riposte telling the other side of the story, it could well be a more thoughtful and nuanced affair.