Interpreter of desires: Iranian cinema and psychoanalysis
The goal of this thesis is the study of the structure of desire and sexuality in post-revolutionary Iranian cinema, through the prism of Lacanian psychoanalytic film theory. The scholarly literature on Iranian cinema has largely come from fields outside film studies and film theory, and almost no studies exist that focus on the question of desire and sexuality in Iranian cinema. Deploying a psychoanalytic film theoretical perspective, I discuss two distinct movements in Iranian cinema. Part I of the thesis focuses on the well-known New Iranian Cinema, where I foreground neglected aspects of this movement and consider the formal logic of this movement to revolve around the axis between the gaze and voice. I analyze the gaze as the Lacanian object-cause of desire in two filmic examples, and demonstrate that contra to the theory that the New Iranian Cinema is the locus of 1970s feminist gaze theory, I argue that it is one of the exemplary sites of the Lacanian object-gaze and one of the few examples of the cinema of desire in the world. I also foreground the voice as an important object of study in the New Iranian Cinema for the first time, and link Chion’s concept of the acousmatic voice to Lacan’s object-voice as the object-cause of desire, where the voice becomes a love-object in two filmic examples of the New Iranian Cinema. Then as the final example, I analyze a single film foregrounding several motifs such as transgender, and male and female homoeroticism through its female protagonists’ forced gender re-signification and cross-dressing, where the logic of the Lacanian feminine ‘No’ and feminine jouissance become operative. In Part II, I theorize the emergence of a new film movement in Iranian cinema that represents a shift away from the conventions of the New Iranian Cinema of the 1990s and 2000s and deploys elements of the horror genre but with an uncanny dimension that evokes the weird and the eerie. Through a close textual analysis, I analyze two respective films that I situate in this new genre bending film movement. The first film was analyzed through a Lacanian prism that looks at the film’s two-part structure where the first half functions as the world of fantasy and the second as the world of desire – where the traumatic Real of desire appears in all its nightmarish dimension. The last film was also theorized as an example of the uncanny between the weird and the eerie and analyzed through the psychoanalytic notion of the return of the repressed, where the chador-clad female vampire represented the return of feminine sexuality in the Real, due to its repression in the Islamic Republic or the (patriarchal) symbolic order. The common motif that runs through the films of this new movement, both at the level of form and content, is the palpable sense of the nightmarish atmosphere of fear and anxiety in contemporary Iranian society.