One of the people I spoke to at the Nativity Story junket nine days ago was Shohreh Aghdashloo, the Iranian actress who plays Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist. Near the end of our interview, she mentioned a film that I had never heard of before:
SA: As a matter of fact, I found out that the only place that they had made a film about Saint Mary is in Iran, and I got my hands on it, and my brother bring it over last week, and I watched it. Obviously it’s been distorted, it’s not the real story –
PTC: What’s the name of the film?
SA: Saint Mary. In Farsi, of course. It’s a six-hour television film.
Aghdashloo isn’t quite correct about this film being the “only” film about the Virgin Mary — the American TV-movie Mary, Mother of Jesus (1999) and the French TV-movie Mary of Nazareth (1995) both come to mind — but both of those films, as I vaguely recall, basically relay the story of the canonical gospels from Mary’s point of view, whereas this Iranian TV-movie, for all I know, may be the first film to depict episodes from Mary’s birth, infancy and childhood that are found only in the apocryphal gospels.
As it happens, a brief bit of Googling turns up a few video clips. The film has a website that includes two sets of clips from the film — one of which features some rather awful English dubbing — and YouTube has a subtitled set of clips from the film, but the sound is so badly out of sync in places that it’s like watching the “Yes! Yes! Yes!” “No! No! No!” sequence from Singin’ in the Rain (1952).
Still, some interesting data does emerge from these clips. It seems the film begins with the birth of Mary in 16 B.C., and it seems the people were expecting a saviour to be born at that time — and they are disappointed, even scandalized, to discover that the promised child is a girl and not a boy. After that, we get scenes of priests debating whether Mary should be allowed into the Temple, and assigning her a guardian — scenes that would seem to be derived, directly or indirectly, from the Protoevangelion of James.
Anyway, I don’t know when or if I’ll ever get a chance to see the full film, but for now, I am definitely intrigued.
Click here if the video file above doesn’t play properly.
NOV 23 UPDATE: Matt Page at the Bible Films Blog notes that this film seems to be influenced by the Koran, too. Very interesting …
DEC 1 UPDATE: Apparently the full six-hour version of this show, with subtitles, is available for sale in the PAL format here.
DEC 7 UPDATE: You could always try watching the film online.