The Cast

REZA  . . . .     Parviz Parastouie
The INSPECTOR . . . . Ran Azadvar,
The GIRL . . Mehran Najafi



directed by Kamal Tabrizi.  115 minutes.  2005.



The Story

The most shocking film from Iran in recent years has no sex, little violence, and virtually no profane language. Marmoulak, or "The Lizard", doesn't need any of this to accomplish its goal: satirize Iranian society through a character who's an escaped convict.

Director Kamal Tabrizi's film begins with a daring prison escape by convicted thief and anti-hero Reza, jailed for life for being caught one too many times. Injured in a prison brawl and sent to the infirmary, Reza finds the robes and turban of a cleric and slips out of jail undetected, fooling prison authorities, mosque worshipers, teenage revelers -- anyone he happens to meet on his road to the border and what he hopes is permanent freedom. A funny thing happens along the way, though: This tattooed, tough- talking robber named Reza stumbles into becoming the prayer leader at a small-town mosque, and every time he tries to leave the town, circumstances push him back. Some of the movie's most hilarious scenes happen when Reza has to fake his way through religious services.

"In the name of God, I'm very happy to be present in this radiant crowd," he says during his first sermon, whose topic is 'the different paths' that lead to God. "Imagine you want to enter a house, OK?" Reza continues to his enraptured audience. "There are several ways -- you can use the key and open the door. But if you don't have a key, the other option is a master key. And if you don't have a master key, you can use a piece of wire clippers, a screwdriver, or you may climb the wall and use a rope."

The worshipers assume Reza's story is metaphorical, not based on his actual experience as a thief. The movie's tension (and laughter) stem from the idea that Reza's true identity could be discovered at any moment -- if not by the worshipers (one of whom Reza lusts after), then by the police who are in pursuit of him. But what happens next is a moral transformation - the one aspect of the film that could at least please the most hardened clerics. After preaching in prisons and even at weekly Friday prayers where worshippers become captivated by his simplicity, Reza becomes a respected religious figure and a man who finds God himself, however, there is also an underlying criticism of the men of the cloth who have ruled Iran for the past 25 years.

Upon its release in Iran four months ago, "The Lizard" became the most popular film in that country. It was also banned after Tehran's religious authorities realized that they had made a mistake in authorizing its theatrical release. One cleric there reportedly said people were mocking him as "The Lizard" when he walked down the street.

The depth of the movie's satire is debatable. Director Kamal Tabrizi has said his film ultimately shows that religion and redemption are possible, and indeed, Parastui's character changes his views over the course of the film. But along the way, we see how a phony Iranian mullah is lionized by a public that treats him the way Americans treat their rock stars. And we see some of the double standards and contradictions that exist in Iran (including the huge void between the country's young people and its ruling clerical class).

By Hollywood standards, "The Lizard" would be considered a mildly funny film. By Iranian standards, "The Lizard" is subversive.

Jonathan Curiel
San Francisco Chronicle
August 6, 2004


Listen to the NPR special on the film, then consult your textbook, notes, as well as the review and the article on the controversy over the film.  Do you think this is an accurate depiction of the current debate in Iran? Why or why not? How could this film have been made and distributed in a 'fundamentalist' theocracy? Use the correct political vocabulary terms.

Write out your answers on the AP Comparative Government Blackboard Discussion Board no later than Midnight, Friday, April 21.

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