By Nazanine Nouri

This year’s Venice Film Festival gave a prestigious award to the Iranian director Shahram Mokri: He won the best original screenplay award in the festival’s parallel ‘Orizzonti’ section for his latest film, “Careless Crime.”

The film is about “a thoughtless criminal act” that “attempts to recreate significant historical events,” Mokri said in his director’s statement. “But this movie does not try to re-enact history; rather it’s about cinema itself.”

Director Shahram Mokri. REUTERS./

Co-written with Nasim Ahmadpour, the film stars Babak Karimi, Razieh Mansouri, Abolfazl Kahani, Mohammad Sareban, Adel Yaraghi, Mahmoud Behraznia and Behzad Dorani.

Set in modern-day Iran, “Careless Crime” is about an arson attack on a movie theater perpetrated by four individuals. It brings to mind an event that led to the Iranian Revolution 40 years earlier, when protestors against the Shah’s regime set fire to movie theaters as a way of showing their opposition to Western culture.

One of those theaters was the Cinema Rex in the city of Abadan in southwestern Iran.  On August 19, 1978 — six months before the Shah’s overthrow — four men entered the Cinema Rex, where close to 500 people were watching Masoud Kimiai’s “The Deer” (starring Behrouz Vossoughi), and set it on fire. A total of 478 people burned to death, and only eight managed to escape, among them one of the arsonists, Hossein Takbalizadh, who was later hanged.

“Careless Crime” is set 40 years later, in contemporary Iran, and shows four individuals deciding to burn down a theater showing a film about an unearthed, unexploded missile.

For Mokri, life in Iran today is not very different from 40 years ago.  “We are faced with the same problems,” he told France’s Radio France Internationale in a recent interview. “For me, it was a good experience to put characters from 40 years ago in present-day Tehran.  What would happen with these characters in today’s Tehran?”

Mokri was born in Marand, Iran in 1978, two days before the Cinema Rex tragedy. “That may be the reason why I still think about it,” he told RFI.    “I feel very close to this event. We have the same age – I’m just two days older.”

Cinema Rex Tragedy of 1978 is Recreated in London Exhibition by Mahmoud Bakhshi

Revolutionary Arson, 19th August 1978: 470 Burnt Alive

Graduating with a degree in cinema from Tehran’s Soureh College, Mokri started his career with short films in 2000. Twenty years later, his repertoire includes eight TV dramas, two TV series and more than 20 short and documentary films.

In 2013, his feature film “Fish and Cat” [Mahi va Gorbeh] won the Special Jury Prize for Best Innovative Content in the Orizzonti section of the Venice Film Festival.

In 2014, he was awarded the Youth Jury and FIPRESCI Awards as well as the Grand Prix at the Fribourg International Film Festival.  In 2018, his film, “Invasion” was presented at the Berlin Film Festival.

In its review of “Careless Crime,” Britain’s Eye for Film online publication wrote that time “doesn’t just shift in Shahram Mokri’s Iranian drama about a fire at a cinema that killed 478.” It also “folds like origami and pirouettes, the past and present so close as they dance, they can feel each other’s breath.”

“The fire really happened, 40 years ago, as the Shah stood on the brink, a catalogue of errors adding, like tinder, to the tragedy,” Eye for Film added.  “Now that period flows into the present day as another group of men decide to take on what they view as the decadence of the moving image and a similar set of careless choices prime the scene.”

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