This essay investigates the place of cinema in the formulation and maintenance of an Iranian popular civil religion—reworking older ideas and practices largely taken from Islam to articulate with modern social and political change in Iran. Of particular interest is the theme of martyrdom in the Iranian cinema of sacred defense, originally conceived to depict the spiritual dimensions of the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88). I explore the foundational role of this genre in the postrevolutionary Iranian cinema and its development in concert with television. I then argue that representations of martyrdom in the Cinema of Sacred Defense, born of a complex history, are attempts to make the divine manifest in film and in real life. While the Cinema of Sacred Defense is often claimed to be a marked departure from previous Iranian films, some of its preoccupations remain much in line with the now-banned popular commercial cinema of the Pahlavi era, often referred to as filmfarsi (Persian film). The film chosen as the case study, Layli ba man ast (Leily Is with Me; Kamal Tabrizi, 1996), is of particular interest not only because it is among the most popular releases of the Sacred Defense genre but also because it is a parody of the genre. The film also provides an incisive critique of new forms of social organization, social aspirations, and personal success (the “good life”) that the revolution and the war engendered. Finally, I turn to how Leily Is with Me and other popular titles of the past decade may indicate the reconstitution of the much-maligned filmfarsi genre.

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