Shahid Sales’ ‘Still Life’, an Iranian film
Hamid Dabashi has written the following about the 1974 Iranian film, Still Life, by Shahid Sales (quote form Masters and Masterpieces of Iranian Cinema):
The story of Shahid Sales’ Still Life is, of course, not story at all — and that is how it borrows the spontaneity of modern Persian poetry and makes a permanent loan of it to Iranian cinema. An aged and anonymous railroad attendant and his equally old and sedate wife live in a remote and nameless spot in the middle of nowhere. The old man’s daily chore is to go to a particular spot at a railroad junction and switch the direction of the tracks for an oncoming train, about which neither we nor the man know anything. People enter and exit the couple’s life, very much like the train that punctuates their otherwise memory-less life. The mind-numbing routine is ultimately interrupted — ruptured — by a visit paid to the old man by an inspector from the central office, informing him that he has reached the age of retirement. As his successor comes to take charge, the old man goes to the city to ask to be allowed to continue to do his job. Denied, he returns home and collects his wife and belongings and they quit the premises.
That is all. The rest is pure visual poetry.
[...]The problem in this case is not with power but with its command to initiate something it calls retirement. Retirement from what? There has been no tiring effort in the old man’s life from which to retire and rest — as there is no conclusion to a life that has not, nor has it ever, even begun. Time and space are languidly stale in this purgatory — nothing really start or ends, nor does this couple move from one to another location.
Here is a short clip from the film Still Life:
Dabashi mentions the influence of the Iranian poet and painter Sohrab Sepehri, and the Japanese filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu on Sales.
Here is a clip from one of Ozu’s films:
I could not find many translations of Sepehri’s poetry on short notice. Below is a short excerpt from Traveler, translated by Dabashi.
At the sunset, amid the tired presence of things,
An expectant gaze could see the very depth of time –
Upon the table,
The commotion of a few first of the season fruits
Was flowing in the vague direction
Of acquaintance with death;
While the wind carried the aroma of the little garden
Over the carpet of idleness
As a gift to the soft margin of life;
And as the mind was holding the light surface of a flower
In hand — just like a fan –
The traveler stepped off the bus:
“What a clear sky!”
And the length of the street carried his lonesomeness away.