'Gabbeh' is a finely woven piece

December 19, 1997|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

An old Iranian couple have stopped at a stream to wash their most important possession: a brightly colored gabbeh, a hand-woven carpet that's both beautiful and, in the stories they tell, autobiographical.

The story this gabbeh tells -- in the person of a beautiful young woman only the couple can see -- is of a girl who wants to marry her suitor, but whose father is determined to stall long enough that his daughter will lose interest. But she never does.

"Gabbeh," the latest from Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf, is a lyrical fairy tale that reveals a deep love and respect for his country's people and traditions. Coming from a director who has often run afoul of the Iranian censors, "Gabbeh" is a reminder that one doesn't have to love one's government to love one's country.

Makhmalbaf originally planned a documentary on the gabbehs still woven by nomadic peoples in southeastern Iran. Highly prized by foreigners, the gabbehs are used to pass down stories from age to age, as well as to tell the stories of the women who wove them.

Sensing that a documentary would only drain the life out of such a lively, spiritual tradition, he decided to turn the film into a love story -- as told by a rug created out of all the joy, heartbreak and whimsy love engenders.

The result is both a tribute to the older, simpler ways and an enchanting fantasy about the power of love to find magic in all things.

"Gabbeh" opens today at The Charles, which also will show, at matinees tomorrow and Sunday, the French film "Up Down Fragile."

'Gabbeh'

Starring Shaghayegh Djodat and Abbas Sayahi

Directed by Mohsen Makhmalbaf

Released by New Yorker Films

Unrated

Sun score: ***

Pub Date: 12/19/97

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