Among Persian Nomads, A Tale of Young Longing - "Gabbeh" Review

By Lawrence Van Gelder The New York Times

From an isolated hut not far from a burbling brook, an elderly man and woman emerge, bickering in the familiar way of the long married about which of them is to wash their beloved gabbeh.

A gabbeh is a Persian carpet woven with bright wools in patterns that relate a story. And in "Gabbeh," to be shown at Alice Tully Hall tonight at 6 and on Saturday at 11:30 A.M. in the New York Film Festival, the Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf weaves a languid, lyric tale.

Seen beneath the clear waters of the brook, the old couple's gabbeh depicts a man and a woman on a white horse, small figures against an expansive background. Suddenly, magically, a young woman appears, dressed identically to the old; and Mr. Makhmalbaf, who also wrote and edited this film, has swept the viewer into the exotic life of a nomadic tribe, a study of the creation of art and a saga of powerful passion.

"Life is color!" shouts one character, and "Gabbeh" is filled with color, from the bright, gold-flecked costumes of its women and little girls, to its wools dyed with wildflowers and the landscapes of tall green grasses, beige outcroppings and spotless snows over which the clan travels.

As they do, a black-clad man on a white steed follows at a distance. He is in love with a lovely young woman called Gabbeh. It is she who is conjured from the old couple's carpet, and as the three sit by the brook, "Gabbeh" relates the carpet's story.

Gabbeh, it seems, longed to run off with the mysterious horseman, who howls for her in the night like a wolf. He has proposed, and she returns his love; but, she says, her father would kill her if she eloped. She must await his permission, but family matters intervene. There is a 57-year-old uncle who must find a wife and marry first; there are illnesses and business to be attended to.

Time passes; the clan moves on. There are animals to be tended, wool to be dyed, carpets to be woven, children to be schooled. Among the herd, there is birth, and in the clan, death. Still the longing lovers wait, courting in their way, and courting death.

Grandly poetic and richly reportorial, "Gabbeh" not only captures the life of the clan; it also conjures mystery about the outcome of its love story, the meaning of the carpet and the relationship of the old couple to all that unfolds. Like its subject, "Gabbeh" is woven with art.

Originally Published October 10, 1996



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