THE DEER (1974)

1:00 PM, Friday April 29 

10:00 AM, Saturday April 30
Saturday screening introduced by Amin Palangi

Randwick Ritz

Director: Masoud Kimiai
Country: Iran
Year: 1974
Runtime: 126 minutes
Rating: UC15+
Language: Persian/ English Subtitles



Wounded by police in an armed robbery, an urban guerilla hunts down an old friend as he looks for a safe place to hide. But his friend is a heroin user and the guerilla stays to help him kick his addiction.

Extremely well-known in Iran for its depiction of urban reality and poverty in pre-revolutionary times, it is also notorious as the film being screened at the Cinema Rex in 1978 when Islamist terrorists set fire to the building killing over 400 people. The fire is often recognized as one of the main triggers for the Islamic Revolution of 1978-79 and the overthrow the Shah’s regime.

“Here, in a nod to Hollywood’s ‘buddy film’, the familiar hero of Iranian popular cinema is prompted into social action, far beyond the usual romantic conquests. There is a sense of an imminent revolution in this story of a former champ turned junkie who reunited with a leftist classmate and is redeemed by revolutionary anger.”  – Ehsan Khoshbakht

Introduced by Amin Palangi, Film-maker, Lecturer in Screen Production University of New South Wales, Director of the Persian Film Festival.

By Ehsan Khoshbakht

Masoud Kimiai:
By the time you read this, the 82-year-old director Masoud Kimiai will have finished his 31st feature, a political crime drama in the spirit of Warner gangster films (Kimiai assisted former Warner director Jean Negulesco during the making of one of his 1960s films shot in Iran). Typical of his productions, the film has already been controversial: being pulled from the official film festival in Tehran in protest at the presence of a certain juror. 'Defiant' can hardly describe Kimiai who, unlike other figures of Iranian cinema in the 70s, never cared about Antonioni or film schools, gaining his education instead at Tehran's second run cinemas, idolising figures like Raoul Walsh and Vincent Sherman.

Kimiai entered the film industry as an assistant director to Samuel Khachikian, a master of crime and noir, and made his debut in 1968. It was his second film, however, that changed the course of Iranian cinema. Gheysar (1969), a rape-revenge drama, was both an ode to American cinema and an uncompromising political statement about the meaning of justice and individualism. Kimiai's hard-boiled cinema and its revolutionary temperament used generic formulas to protest and provoke. The film also turned Behrouz Vossoughi into a superstar and cemented a symbiotic relationship with Kimiai, resulting in five more films.

After the revolution, he was appointed as the head of Channel Two public television but within a few weeks the new regime recognised that the rebel director was untameable. Kimiai resigned and his filmThe Red Line (1982) was banned indefinitely. After a hiatus, he returned to filmmaking in 1987 and continued making features as the most revered cult director in the history of Iranian cinema.

The Film: 

The Deer, Masoud Kimiai's seventh feature, accomplished what he set out to achieve in film after film, with its impeccable combination of humour and pathos. It also made its political message explicit. It is hard to believe the sheer bravery that went into making this militant "buddy movie", which makes all the "political" films of the new Iranian cinema look pale and vapid in comparison. Here, the familiar hero of Iranian popular cinema – down-to-earth and easy-going but essentially apolitical – is prompted into social action; far beyond the usual romantic conquests assigned to a versatile method actor like Behrouz Vossoughi.

There is a sense of imminent revolution in this story of a former champ turned junkie (played by Vossoughi) who reunites with his leftist classmate (Faramarz Gharibian, a childhood friend of the director) and is redeemed by revolutionary anger. Picking up where the anti-hero of Gheysar (Masoud Kimiai, 1969) left off in his quest for personal revenge, the ravaged Seyyed is encouraged by his old friend Ghodrat to fight back as he once did – finally rising from the ashes of addiction for one last tragic demonstration of his dignity and humanity.

Premiered at Tehran International Film Festival in November 1974, the film was an instant sensation and Vossoughi's magnificent performance as Seyyed won him the Best Actor prize. Shortly afterwards, however, Kimiai was arrested during a violent raid by SAVAK, the Iranian secret service. A few days later, the film was banned.

The censor, who insisted on turning Gharibian's urban guerrilla Ghodrat into a bank robber, forced Kimiai to recut the film. The changes also involved shooting an entirely different ending, which Kimiai did with all the self-conscious absurdity that an artist with a gun pointed at his head would adopt. The film was finally screened to Iranian audiences in 1976 but being aware of the original ending, many viewers repeatedly made a ritual of watching the film right up until the start of the final sequence and then rising from their seats and quietly leaving the cinema in silent protest.

Despite the censorship, every sequence of this moving political manifesto resonated with millions of Iranians and the film stayed in circulation for a long time – with some screenings adding more tragic undertones to the film. At the peak of the revolution, the Shah's army opened fire on a crowd of protestors outside Cinema Nahid, which was screening the film at the time (the event is remembered today as "Black Friday"). Only a few weeks before, a group of Islamists had burned down Cinema Rex in southwest Iran while people were inside watching The Deer, which led to the tragic death of more than 300 people.

The Deerstill enjoys enormous popularity and influence in Iran, which might make us forget how personal and intimate it actually is – a drama about two friends holed up in a shabby room with a view onto a derelict courtyard with its downtrodden inhabitants. But in no other film have I seen society's wounds and pains magnified so much, as they are here, seen through only a tiny window.

The Restoration:
While I can imagine the majority of the films shown at Cinema Reborn are beautifully restored copies, one should note that this format inevitably brings some limitations: a great number of restored films are those which (often rightly but not always) have passed through the filters of national and cultural significance defined by big institutions and companies, with the idea of contributing to a cultural agenda and whenever possible bringing in some revenue. But what if a film is not endorsed by the institutions and people who have control over it, such as national archives and ministries of culture? What if a film is completely repressed, denied and locked away? That is the case with The Deer, of which it is believed there are no key elements (such as a camera negative) remaining. It is a film that, owing to the cultural totalitarianism of the current regime, cannot be shown – let alone salvaged.

The version presented at this festival – the result of the sheer enthusiasm of various individuals – is a scan of the director's rather battered positive print. Its multiple missing and damaged scenes are completed from other copies. The National Film Archive of Iran provided some of the missing elements, as well as the censored ending of the film, which will be screened right after the original ending. The result of this home-made "reconstruction" should enable you to see a film whose images are so charged with passion that any imperfections of the copy will immediately move to the background. Even as you notice the faults, every scene of this charmingly scratchy copy will leave a scratch on your soul.


Gavaznhā, گوزنها | Dir: Masoud KIMIAI | Iran | 1974 | 126 mins | 2K DCP (orig. 35mm) | Black & White | 1.37:1 | Mono Sound | Farsi with Eng. subtitles | U/C15+.

Production Company: Misaghye Studio | Producer: Mehdi MISSAGIEH | Script: KIMIAI Photography: Nemat HAHIGHI | Editor: Abbas GANJAVI | Music: Esfandiar MONFAREDZADEH | Special Visual Effects: Mohammad PIRASTEH

Cast: Behrouz VOSSOUGHI (‘Seyed Rasool’), Farmarz GHARIBIAN (‘Ghodrat’), Nosrat PARTOVI (‘Fati’), Garshasb RAOUFI(‘Drug Dealer’), Parviz FANIZADEH(‘Mohammad’).

Source: Ehsan Khoshbakht. 

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