City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Looking at Tazieh

By Bill Dunlop - Posted on 17 August 2008

Looking at Tazieh   Photo: Caroline Douglas
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Running time: 
Abbas Kiarostami (filmmaker)

Tazieh is the folk-drama of Shi'a Islam, in
which the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, the grandson of Prophet Muhammed, is a
central focus and essential element. Looking at Tazieh, however, is a
documentary in which the audience figures as much, if not more, than the action
they watch.

Two large screens show black and white film of female and male
spectators separately, segregated as they are by custom, while a third, smaller
screen shows in colour the particular tazieh play they watch. Over time,
tazieh, once common in Egypt and Iran, has become increasingly confined to
rural Iran, and it is to these presentations that Iranian filmmaker Abbas
Kiaorstami has turned to produce his remarkable record not merely of folk
culture but at least equally to people's reactions to it.

Looking at Tazieh is less a record of a declining tradition, kept alive in isolated backwaters,
preserved in some form of conservative aspic; rather it faithfully (pun
intended) reflects the emotions of those watching what is clearly for many a profoundly
spiritual experience, a cathartic release of emotions not all of which have a
religious root, whilst at the same time displaying all the mixed emotions and
behaviours of people gathered together.

Women re-arrange their head-gear,
children doze or look bored, tea is served, while the great drama they have come
to see plays itself out to its conclusion. The involvement of the spectators in
what they see is clear and profound. Many weep openly as Hussein suffers his

Looking at Tazieh quietly challenges pre-conceptions and prejudices
about Islam, offering views of ordinary people and their everyday attitudes to
one of the most significant elements of their religious calendar. Kiarostami's
work would be valuable for these insights alone, but the filming and editing
are of a more than sufficiently high standard to lift Looking at Tazieh above
the run of audience observation filming, revealing as it does something closer
to a sense of people's spiritual experience in one place and time.

Looking at Tazieh is a unique piece of film-making which does not disappoint.

Times: Aug 15-18 at 18:00

Copyright Bill Dunlop August 2008

Published on August 2008