Chess of the Wind, The (1976)

This banned and long-lost Iranian debut feature, boosted by a stunning restoration, is a genuine eye-opener—subversive, progressive, and a formidable take on how power and greed are symptomatic of patriarchy and nobility.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Review #2,090

Dir. Mohammad Reza Aslani
1976 | Iran | Drama | 93 mins | 1.85:1 | Persian
PG (passed clean)

Cast: Shohreh Aghdashloo, Shahram Golchin, Mohamad Ali Keshavarz
Plot: The first lady of a noble house has died and now there is conflict between the remainders for taking over her inheritance.
Awards: –
Source: The Film Foundation

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Gender, Greed, Power
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse

Viewed: The Projector Plus – True Colors Film Festival
Spoilers: No

Apparently, this film was screened only once publicly in Iran and then got banned with the 1979 Revolution. 

Thought to have been lost forever, The Chess of the Wind makes one of world cinema’s greatest comebacks, boosted by a stunning restoration thanks to the Cineteca di Bologna at L’Immagine Ritrovata and The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project. 

As far as Iranian cinema is concerned, this is a genuine eye-opener for its subversive qualities.  Many have called it a revelation, and that may still be an understatement. 

Most impressive of all, it is Mohammad Reza Aslani’s debut feature, which is hard to believe considering the astonishing formal craft on display and a remarkable grasp of mood and story. 

Some critics have likened it to Visconti, and while that is certainly high praise, it is very much deserving, and hopefully pushes more cinephiles to see it. 

Aslani’s film is about patriarchal power and greed, set mostly in the grand house of a noble family, whose first lady had died and the inheritance up for grabs. 

The deceased’s paraplegic daughter and her housemaid must fend off several scheming men from taking everything away from them.  One might be struck at how progressive this film is, with its strong female characters, and in one scene, a bold depiction of a lesbian relationship. 

We also get fantastic music by Sheyda Gharachedaghi, which must be heard to be believed.  In several sequences that could be described as resembling gothic horror, her music is reminiscent of Ennio Morricone’s in his lesser-known psychedelic mode, fused with what might be traditional Persian instruments. 

A near-perfect film, and one I hope to be able to revisit from time to time (surely a Criterion Collection Blu-ray release is in the works), The Chess of the Wind is a formidable masterwork with a strangely alluring, hypnotic, even hallucinatory effect—I still can’t stop thinking about it many days after. 

Grade: A+

Film Intro:

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