Nassereddin Shah, Actor- e Cinema (1992)

(Once Upon a Time, Cinema) (1995)




Director:     Mohsen Makhmalbaf. 

Starring:     Akbar Abdi (Malijak),  Morteza Ahmadi,  Dariush Arjmand (Amir Kabir),  Ezzatolah Entezami (Nassereddin Shah / Mozzaffaeddin Shah / Mash Hasan),  Jahangir Forouhar,  Mehdi Hashemi (Akkas bashi),  Mohamad Ali Keshavarz (Farrash bashi),  Parvaneh Massoumi,  Fatemah Motamed-Aria (Golnaar),  Mahaya Petrossian,  Moharram Zaynalzadeh.

one of the last of Iran's extravagant shahs of the Qajar Dynasty (of Turkic descent, 1795-1925)  falls in love with the newly invented movies, as well as an early Iranian screen heroine


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie. 

This is a dream (or fantasy sequence). 

Iranian Cinematographer Ebrahim Khan says:  "I long for you, Atieh."  Atieh, waiting on a bench while he talks, is his beloved.  He has to leave her to go to Europe for awhile, where he says he will bring back objects of cinematography.  Ebrahim says he will be back before the snow melts.  Ebrahim worked making movies of His Majesty's ceremonies.  He also went to the movies with His Majesty.  Ebrahim says that he was ordered to borrow money to get the movies started. 

July 8, 1900.  While His Majesty was away, the concubines of the third degree demanded an allowance.  They did not receive their allowance, so they declared the harem closed to the Shah.  The Shah is a bit sad and a bit moved and he says the equivalent of"  Just think.  And I was thinking of bring the movies to my people.  Ebrahim asks the Shah about the possibility of getting back to Atieh.  He asks him if he forgot about his promise to him.  The Shah has other ideas, however,  He asks the sorcerer to send Ebrahim to his son in order to establish the movies in Iran.  The sorcerer makes a mistake and sends him back in time to the Shah's father.  Ebrahim finds himself in the reign of the previous Shah with his head sticking out of the guillotine death machine.  The charge against him is the making of movies in the Royal Private Chambers.  The Chamberlain shows up and explains the misunderstanding to the Shah in order to save Ebrahim.

The current Shah will watch The Girl from Loristan.  In the movie the hero is taking the heroine, Gulnaar, to Tehran.  To get her there he has to lift her up a steep cliff.  But as he lifts her by a rope, he has to fight off a big thug of a man who tries to cut the rope and send Gulnaar to her death.  The rope is cut and Golnaar lands in the harem with the Shah present. 

Back to the film.  Men catch Golnaar and start to give her a whipping.  She breaks away, steals a horse and rides out. 

The Shah is ailing.  They want to show the film.  Ebrahim says he will not cooperate until he see Atieh.  The movie is shown nevertheless.  The Shah starts to fall in love with Golnaar and brings her off the screen so he can see her in front of him.  She is taken to the Private Chambers.  She screams out for her hero:  "Jafar!"  Ebrahim leaves saying he expected a lot from the movies but found out that he was deceived.  There is a parade down a city street with some walkers carrying pictures of American silent film stars Jackie Coogan and Charlie Chaplain. 

Golnaar is put in the harem.  One of the Shah's favorites becomes very jealous of Golnaar.  She tries to stir up discontent against Golnaar among the other women of the harem.  She warns that they are taking Golnaar to the bridal chamber.  Golnaar is put on the side and slides down to the Shah.  The Shah tells his aide Malli to man the projector.  Golnaar jumps back into the movie through the film projector.  And she comes back to the Shah again.  He tries to catch her. 

The woman trying to stir up the harem says that the Shah only spends one night with each young lady, but so far Golnaar has been with the Shah for nine nights.  The women cut some of Golnaar's locks of hair.  And still the Shah wants Golnaar.  He runs trying to catch Golnaar and ends up catching different women of the harem such as the 56th wife and the 67th wife.  He winds up with the inciter of the uprising against Golnaar. 

Ebrahim takes pictures of Atieh waiting on the bench.    A modern looking Iranian man sits down on the bench next to her.  Ebrahim learns that His Royal Highness wants to examine the movies by himself.  He goes into his private chambers.  Now the concern is censorship.  The ministers announce that film makers must abstain from discontented remarks directed toward the person of the Sultan in any manner. 

The Shah and his harem women laugh while watching a film.  The Shah looks at the film strips looking for Golnaar. 

Another censorship rule is that a film maker cannot display signs of insolence, animosity or insensibility towards the cavalry, the police, the Ministry of Justice, the Ruling Governors and their kin.  

Lightning starts striking and the harem women and children become frightened. 

The Shah gets the bright idea of inviting the people to see The Girl from Loristan in the open air.  The movie really slows when it concentrates way too long on an old woman trying to thread a needle.  The men especially start jeering the screen and start leaving.  Others throw things at Ebrahim who is manning the projector.  The Shah and the uprising woman fall asleep on the platform that is held up on the shoulders of its carriers.  But then the carriers fall asleep  and the platform starts sloping dramatically in one direction, disturbing the Shah. 

Now awake, the Shah tells his aide Malli to help the old woman attempting to thread the needle on the screen.  Malli climbs up on the side of the screen and actually appears in the movie.  But Malli has no more luck than the old woman had in threading the needle.  The Shah is pleased with Malli, who then falls out of the screen onto the floor. 

Ebrahim is being punished by having to draw a coach around in circles as the coachman whips him. 

Now appear movies with sound.  One of them involves a lot of singing and reminds one of an Indian film.  The Shah watches the film.  Then a modern crime/action flick comes on the screen with lots of blood and killing.  The hero of the movie is Ghaysar, who gets vengeance for the death of his brother.   The Shah congratulates Golnaar on her acting.  Then it is back to the Ghaysar movie. 

The Shah says he has 84 wives.  None of them loved him and he loved none of them.  One time he had a cat that he loved, but the women of the harem became very jealous of the pet and killed it.  The Shah says that he only has Golnaar now.  Golnaar laughs and laughs. 

The Shah decides he wants to be in the movies.  Ebrahim tells him that he will regret the decision when he is sober.  Switch to the violent movie again.  The Shah has make-up put on his face.  And he actually appears in a movie.  Then the Shah has hot milk thrown on him.  He looks like Christ carrying a cross, while being whipped, on his way to the crucifixion.  Then follows a sequence where film covers the walls and the floor and gets all entangled around people. 

Back to the guillotine.  Probably referring to the movies or Atieh, Ebrahim says:  "I'm slain four your love."  The Sultan thinks he is a cow, with references to the Iranian movie The Cow.  The blade of the guillotine drops toward Ebrahim, even though only cut-up books are seen falling into the head-catcher on the guillotine. 

The lightning strikes again.  The Sultan rides his white horse.  Religious men in the desert come to just a gate in the emptiness and ring the buzzer. 

Ebrahim is back with Atieh.

Many movie clips are shown containing greetings and embraces between characters. 


What a weird film.  To really enjoy the film you have to not mind the numerous use of dream-sequences/fantasy scenes.  It has been written that the handling of the history of individuals in film was one of the key starting points for the introduction of modernity into Iran.  I don't particularly like these types of movies, nor does my wife.  At least my wife did not get up and leave as she sometimes does on these types of movies. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 


Historical Background:


Shahs of modern Iran (1502-1979)

Safavid dynasty(1502-1736)

Afsharid dynasty (1736-1750, nominally until 1797)

Zand dynasty (1750-1794)

Qajar dynasty (1794-1925)

Pahlavi dynasty (1925-1979)



Qajar Dynasty (1794-1925)  --  of Turkic descent

Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar (1794-1797)

Fath Ali Shah (1797-1834)

Adel Ali Shah (November 16, 1834-December 16, 1834); Ruled in Tehran

Hossein Ali Shah (December 5, 1834-April 1835); Ruled in Shiraz, Fars

Mohammad Shah Qajar (November 8, 1834-1848); Ruled in Tabriz from November 8 to January 31, 1835. Crowned at Tehran as Shah of Persia on January 31, 1835.

Nasser-al-Din Shah (1848-1896) -- assassinated

Mozaffar al-Din Shah Qajar (1896-1907)  --  moderate, kind, but not very effective ruler; spent foreign loans on European trips and other extravagances. 

1896-1907  --  The first Persian filmmaker, Mirza Ebrahim Khan Akkas Bashi, was the official photographer of Shah Muzaffar al-Din Shah, who ruled from1896–1907.

1900 (July)  --  Akkas Bashi visits Paris and gets a camera; he filmed the Shah's visit to Europe upon the Shah's orders. It is said he also filmed the Shah’s private and religious ceremonies.

Mohammad Ali Shah (1907-1909)

Soltan Ahmad Shah Qajar (1909-1925)


1932 – Lor Girl, first Iranian sound film (made by Abdolhossein Sepanta). 

1935  --  Black Eyes, the story of Nader Shah's invasion of India.

1935  --  Ferdowsi, the life story of the most celebrated epic poet of Iran.

1969  --  The Cow, directed by Darius Mehrjui.

1974  --  Still Life.


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