Fatemeh Tavakoli (University of Tartu, Estonia) “Mystic Interpretation of War: Memoryscapes of the Iran–Iraq War in Iranian Cinema”


I will discuss Iranian war, a.k.a “Holy Defence,” cinema with regard to the use of mysticism in Morteza Avini’s (1947 – 1993) works. I intend to examine and represent the influence of Avini in Iranian media and the use of his works for maintaining a sacred image of war.

My aim is to explore how Avini, as an auteur, applies Shia discourse in displaying war, and how his works are used for the memorization of martyrdom in Iranian media. With references from the Quran, the Nahjul Balagha, Hadith, and mystic literature, I intend to show how Avini’s works are congruous with the notion of “Holy Defence,” demonstrating his Weltanschauung and intertextuality from mystic literature. Also, I intend to show how romanticism and religiosity in Avini’s works are consistent with the values of the Islamic revolution of 1979.

Avini creatively presents and introduces war as a blessed opportunity. This motivational perspective was consistent with the Iranian government’s need for sending soldiers to the front lines and keeping up the moral of the nation for supporting its defence and the war. Avini thus was beneficial for government propaganda. Avini had, as a result, proper support for producing and presenting his works during and after the war.

Furthermore, Avini’s works are still presented as the ideal form of cinema in the “Holy Defence” genre. The will of the political elite was partially the reason for producing and supporting Avini’s narrations based on Persian literary works and Shia references. His works are still widely advertised by the current government, with emphasis on Shia ideology behind the Iran-Iraq war.

In conclusion, the Iranian government’s favouritism towards Avini has generated the memories and afterimage related to religion as expression of identity and war. This religious attitude towards war allows us to make a connection between Shia mysticism of past and the main body of the present society.