Looking at Tazieh (3 stars)

This article is from 2008.

Looking at Tazieh

Fascinating filmed version of millennium-old Persian drama

This video installation by Abbas Kiarostami renders into real emotion a filmed version of Tazieh a millennium-old form of Persian drama enacted annually to commemorate and grieve the loss of Imam Hussein, grandson of the prophet Mohammed. But the felt experience of the performance is conveyed more through watching its audience than the show itself.

The event is staged in such a way that you spend more time watching your fellow spectators than the play. Among three video screens depicting the event, the two black and white films, which show the male and female audience enclosures at an open air venue, dwarf the small colour film of the event itself.

As much of the spectacle, which involves the prophet being pursued and eventually executed by corrupt government officials, is enacted on the little centre screen, we behold an increasingly emotional and involved audience, many of whom are seen shedding tears at the denouement.

Now, while this is in many respects a fascinating process, you can't help feeling a little cheated by Tazieh, which looks as if it might be a remarkable and momentous spectacle to behold live. While most Western audiences might not be rooted in the traditions and theology represented here, the horsemanship swordplay, and pure pathos of a finale which depicts a massacre of innocents looks quite thrilling. We are, after all, in our secular culture, nearly as detached from works such as the York Mystery Cycle, yet weʼve seen that it can make for powerful drama.

As it is, thereʼs no question that we learn a good deal (and hopefully profit from the learning) about the emotional impact of this piece on its audience, and are therefore brought closer to them. But perhaps a genuine live event, rather than a film in a theatre festival might be more powerful.

The Hub, 473 2000, until 17 Aug, 6pm, £8.

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