Film Review: Gabbah

by Celeste Heiter, Jul 31, 2010 | Destinations: Iran



A double entendre is the essence of this enigmatic film in which a beautiful young woman named Gabbeh springs to life from an image in an heirloom gabbeh carpet. The carpet belongs to an elderly couple who are performing a cleaning ritual in a nearby stream when the woman appears and tells her story of forbidden love.

Gabbeh belongs to the Ghashghai, a small nomadic tribe with a long history of weaving the gabbeh rugs for which Gabbeh, the eldest daughter, is named. In the Ghashghai tribe's migration, a mysterious horseman suddenly appears on the horizon and calls to Gabbeh. She wants to go to him, but her father forbids it. He wants her to wait until his elder brother Abbas arrives to rejoin the tribe.

But when Uncle Abbas arrives, her father decides that she must wait for him to find his prophesied bride-to-be. And when Abbas finds her singing like a canary near a spring and marries her, Gabbeh's father now insists that Gabbeh must wait for her mother to give birth. And when her mother dies in childbirth and the wife of Abbas takes ill, Gabbeh's father says she must act in his place as leader of the tribe until they return from a trip to see a doctor.

As this perpetual procrastination continues, Gabbeh's mysterious suitor shadows the tribe from the horizon as they move from place to place, pleading with the voice of a lone wolf for her join him. All the while, the film shifts back and forth from Gabbeh's tale to the elderly couple and their carpet-washing ritual. As the story evolves, it becomes apparent that the their own history is also woven into the gabbeh.

Written and directed by Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Gabbeh is a pastoral mosaic. More visual than verbal, Gabbeh alive with a symphony of sound and a kaleidoscope of color that issues forth from a landscape as forbidding as a father's love. And the story it tells is at once romantic and cruel, mystical and austere, tragic and triumphant. One of Iran's most beautiful gifts to the world of cinema.