(Filmmaker Shahram Mokri’s 2020 film Careless Crime [Jenayat-e bi deghat] is playing as part of the filmmakers retrospective at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (ie; BAM). Jonathan Marlow has this movie review of Careless Crime [Jenayat-e bi deghat])
History repeats. Catastrophic history repeats catastrophically.
In March of 1911, one of the worst tragedies in America history occurred at the Triangle Waist Company when nearly one-hundred-fifty workers—primarily young women—died in a fire. The disaster in the Asch Building, adjacent to Washington Square Park (and now part of the NYU campus), led to a number of workplace reforms in New York which consequently spread to additional cities.
The following year, James Oppenheim directed The Crime of Carelessness for Edison Studios, a fictionalized account of the fire (which attempts to shift blame away from the owners of the company and spread responsibility across all of the participants).
Inside of a cinema museum, threaded through a flatbed, excerpts of this silent short appear within the similarly-named Careless Crime [Jenayat-e bi deghat], the fourth feature-length from the immensely talented Iranian filmmaker Shahram Mokri. The preamble to this footage is heard throughout the museum describing the Cinema Rex fire in 1979 in which nearly five-hundred lost their lives, a harbinger of the Iranian Revolution. Only eight in the audience survived (including one of the arsonists, later executed for his role in the crime).
If you are unfamiliar with Shahram Mokri, you are not alone. Despite the occasional festival appearance of his earlier works, his films have evaded a proper U.S. theatrical release until now, thanks to the impressive efforts of nascent distributor Deaf Crocodile. Mokri first came to my attention a handful of years ago when filmmakers Maximón Monihan and Sheena Matheiken returned from Tehran with tales of Fish & Cat [Mahi va gorbeh], his second feature. Imagine a surrealistic visit to a secluded campsite for a kite-competition-gone-horribly-wrong where the same suspenseful ten minutes are repeated for two hours from alternating perspectives. Based on a true story! The story is a meandering M.C. Escher-esque contrivance not unlike the extraordinary films of Raúl Ruiz in its persistent manipulations of time and space.
Similarly true, Careless Crime takes the circumstances of Cinema Rex and folds that past into our collective present. The central protagonist, an ambling fellow who seems more willing to be led than lead, capriciously joins a trio of arsonists intent on recreating the conflagration of four decades earlier. Or are they the same four who set fire to the Rex? At the cinema, the audience is viewing a film entitled The Careless Crime directed by—you guessed it—Shahram Mokri. The advertisement for the film displayed in the lobby, hanging next to a poster for Abbas Kiarostami’s Close-Up (arguably the best-known hybrid of fiction and nonfiction in all of Iran and the world beyond), is largely identical to the theatrical poster for The Deer, the film that screened the fateful night at Cinema Rex. In the film-within-the-film, two women are finalizing the arrangements for an outdoor screening of—wait for it—The Deer while a handful of individuals investigate the sudden appearance of an undetonated missile. Careless Crime shifts intermittently from the contemporary (or historical) story to the film-within-the-film and back again until the lines between the two become porous. Parallel bits of dialogue, as in Mokri’s earlier Fish & Cat, are repeated in different contexts or seen from alternative angles. What was understood as one thing blossoms into something somewhat different in its repetition.
Naturally, any cinema-set genre or genre-less film should be seen (if possible) in a cinema. Anguish? Undoubtedly its many charms improve in a similar setting. If you have an opportunity to see Careless Crime in a nearby theater in your town, the experience certainly would be quite worth it for the astonishing closing moments of the film alone.
— Jonathan Marlow (@aliasMarlow)
CARELESS CRIME [JENAYAT-E BI DEGHAT] (2020) dir. Shahram Mokri [134min.] Deaf Crocodile