The First Letter (2003)

  |  Drama, Romance


The First Letter (2003) Poster

Iran, late 70s. Young Emkan falls in love with Maasoum, the mysterious daughter of the owner of the local movie theater. The revolution and the war break out. Maasoum escapes with her ... See full summary »


6.3/10
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11 September 2003 | anooshiravan
Kudos for Jalili, and a kudos for Iranian Movie Industry
Abolfazl Jalili with Abjad, moves into autobiographical territory for the first time. Jalili is an impeccable visual storyteller and he infuses the film's luminous images with the exquisite truth of his own memory, his own childhood.

Outside Tehran, in the town of Saveh, fourteen-year-old Emkan is torn between his deep, instinctual passion for artistic expression and his parents' conviction that his creativity is an offence against their Muslim faith. When Maassoum, a girl of his age, moves into the neighbourhood, they strike up a tender friendship, which will develop into love. This relationship feeds Emkan's burgeoning desires to explore his talents and experiment with arts he has not encountered before - photography and motion pictures. However, his father's ongoing disapproval - and a changing political climate - presents Emkan with the increasingly difficult task of negotiating the family's traditions, his own faith, his irrepressible nature and his feelings for Maassoum.

Abjad begins in the late seventies with the outbreak of the Iranian Revolution looming. A story which might, in the hands of a Western romantic, centre around Emkan's attempt to project his ego into the world, focuses instead on his struggle to discover - through politicized action and his interactions with others - what is best in the society in which he is rooted. Jalili's portrait of the father-son relationship is especially well rounded - the man's urge to determine Emkan's path, in light of the nepotism he has encountered in the workplace, not so much autocratic as protective.

As Jalili excavates the early moments of his own artistic development, he combines an incisive yet compassionate view of spirituality and inter-generational conflict with a glorious visual sense. The rather abstract spaces of some shots transform their objects - a light bulb, a group of running boys - into tiny lyric poems capturing moments of experience. The film is a lovely autobiographical work that starts with an individual, but opens up to provide a perspective on a much wider milieu.

Nonetheless, Jalili had some flaws in Abjad. There were some mistakes that should have been avoided. For example, the movie related to pre-Shah era (before 1979) and the Iranian flag over school reminds the audience of that time. However at the same time in his picture we see a yellow Renault (French car) that does not match with that time frame. In fact, at that time there was no Renault imported in Iran. Another blunder is the image of a new white Pegeaut (another French car) in the scene, but again the same mistake. Want to hear some more bizarre mistakes in this movie? Check this out: the scene in Emkan's neighbourhood (where the Jews wedding is taking place) is named under a martyr. This is strictly attributed to after revolution era where the streets are named after some heroes who are martyred in the war or revolution. He has whitened the name of martyr on that scene, but that is so amateur. He could have simply changed the name! Also, there were some typos in the sub-title (Iraq Vs Irak), etc. Mistakes like these should not happen in the first place in Jalili's movies. This movie has already caused some unrest in Iran, where the Islamic regime does not tolerate these types of stories, a Muslim boy in love of a Jew girl! Jalili has added some unreal exaggerations (where the Jewish family of Maassoum are forced to migrate from their hometown after revolution), but in reality this never happened to any Jews in Iran after revolution. They were never forced to leave, although some of them voluntarily decided to move somewhere else. Perhaps the best thing that Jalili does in this movie is to demonstrate the internal tension of most youngsters have, specially in any Islamic country where the kids are forced to obey the Islamic laws, and at the same time the fundamentalist Islam forbid the youth of the very initial rights of mankind, as love, music, romance, and freedom. I hope Jalili can give a lucid message to all political leaders that love of Muslims and Jews is rooted to the hearts and does not get vanished by the daily violence of regimes.

Kudos for Jalili, and kudos to all who embrace love, regardless of religions and any other boundaries!

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