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Magic Realism in Film

            In his chapter "On Magic Realism in Film," Fredric Jameson identifies three shared features of magic realist films which ultimately contribute to a visual experience that rescues the image from the commoditization found in postmodern or so-called nostalgia films. Mohsen Makhmalbaf's 1996 film Gabbeh, is the story of an old couple who summon the appearance of a young woman during their daily rug-washing ritual. Fantastical elements exist comfortably alongside the rational world, and, indeed, a close examination reveals that Gabbeh exemplifies much of what Jameson considers to be the essential shared traits of magic realism.
             Jameson identifies the use of color in magic realist films to be "the source of a particular pleasure, a fascination" (p. 130), and what is most immediately striking about Gabbeh is indeed its bold use of largely primary colors. All the women depicted in the nomadic Iranian tribe wear colorful robes, and the elderly woman and the young woman, Gabbeh, are explicitly linked by the similar bright blue robes they wear. A good deal of attention is devoted to the process of gathering and boiling flowers to make dye, and then of threading the colorful yarns into the gabbeh that the women weave to tell the stories of the members of the tribe.
             Color as a heightened presence is thus found throughout the film. It gains a more explicit and even magical purpose in two scenes involving Gabbeh's uncle. In the first, the uncle gives an impromptu lesson to some itinerant school children. He points to red and yellow flowers, and magically, they appear in his hands. The same for green grass. He points to the blue sky, and his hand becomes blue, to the blue water and his hand drips blue, to the yellow sun, and his hand becomes yellow. The second scene adds meaning to the first. The uncle says "Life is color!" and a montage follows: "Love is color," "Man is color," "Woman is color," "Child is color," and finally "Death is- followed by a shot of black yarn that is soon woven into the grandmother's gabbeh to tell the story of the dead sister.

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