Fifi Howls From Happiness is Iranian filmmaker Mitra Farahani’s magnificent documentary about the life and death of Bahman Mohassess. This incredible film is separated into four chapters, the first one about the making of the documentary and Mitra tracking down Mohassess. It begins with a collector of his work searching far and wide for the rare remaining pieces on the market.
The second chapter focuses on his life, the creation of his work, and his relationship with the Shah’s regime. In one of the many laugh-through-your-tears stories, Mohassess wants to put underwear on statutes (during the course of the revolution) to cover private parts and in the process, destroys one and claims it fell on its own weight. But years later, as Mohassess goes through a small collection of his work left untouched by the Majils, he sadly reflects on his own personal destruction of the large pieces.
Chapter three follows two Iranian brothers who purchase every small piece Mohassess has with him at his hotel and commission him to make them a large painting, which he promises to do. Interlaced with chapter three are cuts from the Visconti movie The Leopard, starring Burt Lancaster as a man who grew up in the time of lions and leopards. Clearly Mitra Farahani believes that Mohassess is one of the lions and that when he’s gone, whose voice will replace his in the world? The film is magnificently gorgeous with Mohassess requiring the documentary be opened and closed with shots of water, an homage to his Iranian childhood on the shores of Caspian Sea. His request to have his ashes sprinkled on the open water as Nino Rota’s The Leopard soundtrack plays is beyond moving and leads into the final chapter.
This was the third movie I saw in one day. After a mediocre dance movie and another I could barely sit through, I sat there and went: Why am I doing this with my life? And then I see something like Fifi Howls From Happiness and it’s a magnificent movie that I’m glad I can tell the world about.
Review © Jan Lisa Huttner (8/20/14)
Photos: Artist Bahman Mohassess
Q #1: Does Fifi Howls From Happiness pass the Bechdel Test?
No. The film focuses on the life and death of Bahman Mohassess.