Manuscripts Don’t Burn (a J!-ENT DVD Review)
February 16, 2015 by Dennis Amith
“Manuscripts Don’t Burn” is a unique film created with danger and risk. Whether you do or do not believe if Mohammad Rasoulof has accomplished his goal, one can only respect the filmmaker for standing up for his beliefs and become the voice of the voiceless through cinema. “Manuscripts Don’t Burn” is highly recommended!
© 2014 Kino Lorber. All rights reserved.
DVD TITLE: Manuscripts Don’t Burn
DATE OF FILM RELEASE: 2012
DURATION: 138 Minutes
DVD INFORMATION: Color, 16:9, French Dolby Digital 5.1 with English Subtitles
COMPANY: Adopt Films/Kino Lorber
RATED: NOT RATED
RELEASE DATE: November 25, 2014
Written and Directed by Mohammad Rasoulof
Mohammad Rasoulof was sentenced to six years in jail by the Iranian authorities because of his subversive filmmaking activities. The scathing MANUSCRIPTS DON’T BURN was clandestinely produced in protest of his conviction, bringing a whole new level of clarity and audacity to Rasoulof’s (IRON ISLAND) already laudable career. Drawing from the true story of the government’s attempted 1995 murder of several prominent writers and intellectuals, Rasoulof imagines a repressive regime so pervasive that even the morally righteous are subsumed or cast aside. A lacerating and slow-burning thriller filmed in a frigid palette of blues and grays. MANUSCRIPTS DON’T BURN is perhaps the most subversive and incendiary j’accuse lodged against an authoritarian regime since the fall of the Soviet Union.
“Manuscripts Don’t Burn” is one of the most defying films about Iran and it’s a big surprise that filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulof, his crew and cast had made the film at all.
As Mohammad Rasoulof still facing a 20-year ban from making films or traveling to an outside country, not long after he was sentence to six years in jail by Iranian authorities for “subversive filmmaking activities”, Rasoulof was able to shoot and create “Manuscripts Don’t Burn”.
With the cast and crew not wanting their names listed in fear of the censorious regime and avoid any reprisals, “Manuscripts Don’t Burn” (a quotation by Russian writer Mikhail Bulkgakov) is inspired by a true story when several prominent Iranian writers and intellectuals were murdered back in 1995.
“Manuscripts Don’t Burn” begins with driver Morteza waiting for the older Kohsrow. As Morteza spots Kohsrow being chased, he manages to rescue him but while driving, asking him if he did the job and we see bloody fingerprints on Kohsrow’s neck. Kohsrow is awaiting his payment for the job in order to help his family, especially his sick, younger boy.
His wife believes that their son’s affliction is due to Kohsrow’s work and they are being punished.
While Kohsrow worries that his wife may be right, Morteza doesn’t believe in it as their job is in accordance with shariah.
We are then taken back to a mission where the two men have kidnapped a writer named Kasra. Kasra’s circle of friends, authors and intellectuals, are under constant surveillance and intimidation by the state security. The men were all witnesses to a failed government plot to murder 21 writers and journalists in a staged bus crash.
And now, the state intelligence minister wants to erase the failure by eliminating all of those who were witnesses and to retrieve manuscripts that detail the failure which the writers are hoping it will get published. So, Kohsrow and Morteza are tasked to kidnap one of the writer’s and find out where the manuscript are hidden.
Meanwhile, the film shows us how the two men are involved and how far they would go to get the information that they need.
VIDEO & AUDIO:
“Manuscripts Don’t Burn” is presented in 16:9. Outdoor scenes look good as one could expect on DVD, skin tones look natural and I didn’t see any problems with video while viewing the film.
As for the soundtrack, the Persian Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is clear and understandable and the English subtitles are easy to read.
“Manuscripts Don’t Burn” comes with a stills gallery and theatrical trailer.
Mohammad Rasoulof’s “Manuscripts Don’t Burn” is no doubt an act of defiance against the Iranian regime.
Facing a 20-year ban from making films or traveling outside his homeland, having served several years in prison, Mohammad Rasoulof was determined in making this film and he was also determined to return back home, despite the warnings that he shouldn’t.
But this is a heavy-hitting thriller as it showcases a government who feels they are doing right by silencing the writers and the intellectuals from openly defying the government.
What is more chilling is that the two men that must do the job, it’s like regular life as they do their job of torture and getting the manuscript from the writer(s) they have kidnapped or have as prisoner.
The level of corruption and the level of censorship is high in reality and as depicted in the film, despite human rights groups accusing the government officials, no one dares to go against the Iranian government….with the exception of director Mohammad Rasoulof. Wanting to see change in his country and wanting to be a voice showing the level of political corruption in Iran, this is one of the most riskiest form of cinema anyone will see.
But Mohammad Rasoulof’s depiction of the two men, Khosrow and Morteza, is not to pain them as evil, but as men working a job in accordance to Shariah (the moral code and religious law of a prophetic religion).
Khosrow’s wife believes that his job is a backward karma to why their son is so sick and Khosrow does think about that possibility. Where as Morteza looks at their jobs, because it was allowed by the government, that they are not in religious defiance.
And the cruelty that these men must pull off by torturing these writers, deep inside we despise the men for their actions but know that these men truly believe that they are doing the right thing. And to make it worse, their duties are authorized by the State Security.
While the film will never be seen in Iran and what will happen with Mohammad Rasoulof, now that he has returned back home, one can marvel of how he was able to create a film in Iran and find ways to have it smuggled out of the country for premiere at film festivals. This is one writer risking his life in essence, like the writers who hid their manuscripts in hopes they would get published, Rasoulof was able to make films and find a way to get them shown worldwide.
But what is the message of the film? That in today’s social media world, intellectual arguments have become to passe during our age where news is broken on Facebook or Twitter? That perhaps with newer technologies, it’s the best way to have a voice against one’s government?
Overall, “Manuscripts Don’t Burn” is a unique film created with danger and risk. Whether you do or do not believe if Mohammad Rasoulof has accomplished his goal, one can only respect the filmmaker for standing up for his beliefs and become the voice of the voiceless through cinema.
“Manuscripts Don’t Burn” is highly recommended!
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