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Sacred Canopy: Love and Sex Under the Veil

Shahla Haeri

The article attempts to elaborate on the subliminal messages of desire and intimacy in Iranian movies. Unlike the representation of love, which has been beautifully expressed in infinite variety in Persian literature and miniature paintings, the cinematic expression of intimacy, desire and sexuality has been more circumspect and metaphorical than direct and obvious in the Iranian post-revolutionary movies. Although with the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Islamic legal and traditional discourse has become the dominant factor, the “erotic” discourse that is that is embedded in Persian poetry and popular culture has struggled to survive. The author suggests that there has always been a tension between the religious norms that regulate gender relationship, on the one hand, and the erotic discourse that tends to subvert the very same norms by encouraging the culturally meaningful play of amorous eye contact, nazar bazi.

Based on her review of four recent films of Iranian directors, the author contends that the Iranian cinema has succeeded in subtly breaking down the religiously sacred wall of sex segregation. In the process, the female characters-who are supposed to remain silent and anonymous and secluded- have been exposed to intense attention, even active voyeurism. Iranian cinema, the author believes, has therefor boldly, albeit allegorically, crossed the boundaries of sex, gender, and sexuality. Indeed, when the Islamic republic transformed Iran into a veiled society, the desire to uncover, to reveal and to look under the canopy of Islamic society turned stronger. Furthermore, cinema has eradicated the boundaries of public and private domains and rendered the categorization of the medium and control of its message problematic.