Review by Camden Ferrell
Chess of the Wind is an Iranian movie from director Mohammad Reza Aslani. It was screened a limited number of times in 1976 before being banned and presumably lost for decades, only existing in low quality VHS tapes. However, in 2014 Aslani’s son discovered the film negatives in an antique shop in Tehran, paving the way for a restoration and release of Aslani’s movie. While its visual aesthetic is something to be celebrated, the pacing and convoluted story ultimately muddle what could have been an unearthed jewel of Iranian cinema.
Set in early 20th century Iran, this movie follows a family after the death of the matriarch. There is a large inheritance and conflict ensues in regard to whom it will be bequeathed. While the widowed Hadji believes himself to be the rightful inheritor of the money, the matriarch’s daughter, Lady Aghdas believes it is rightfully hers. She then proceeds to scheme with her handmaiden to ensure she gets what she believes is rightfully hers. This is an interesting premise for a movie, that works well on a surface level and a more deep and thematic level as well.
Aslani’s script isn’t anything impressive, but it does a decent enough job of telling its central story. The dialogue sufficiently reveals information about its character’s and their motivations, but it’s never quite compelling. It doesn’t do enough to retain attention or interest, and it simply satisfies the most basic requirements of what a screenplay needs to be.
The acting is one of the film’s strong suits. Fakhri Khorvash plays Lady Aghdas and is probably the most impressive performance of the film. She is strong, steadfast, and entertaining as we see her plot to secure her inheritance. It’s nothing Earth-shattering, but it’s an enjoyable performance that is an insight into the middle of her career. The other actors support her well but aren’t quite as memorable as she is. The movie also excels with its cinematography. It’s a well shot movie that uses camera movement sparingly, and it works in giving the film a visually pleasant aesthetic. The restoration is fantastic and elevate the experience even when other areas of the film are lacking.
The film falters significantly in the film’s pacing. While its slow and steady pace is deliberate and should work for the story in theory, it meanders far too much. In addition to its wandering and sluggish pace, the movie also takes its relatively simple premise and executes it in a way that is convoluted. It doesn’t foster audience engagement, and it is ultimately what hinders the movie’s quality the most.
Chess of the Wind may not be the beautiful hidden gem of Iranian cinema that one would hope, but it’s a great restoration of a movie that could have potentially been lost forever. The execution and slow pace may be off-putting to some, but fans of Iranian cinema might find something to enjoy in this film.
Chess of the Wind will be in theaters October 29.