THE secretive exploits of Britain’s foreign intelligence service, MI6, have long excited imaginations. Few more so than that of Abolqasem Talebi, an Iranian film-maker whose latest work, “The Golden Collars”, offers a vivid account of the civil unrest that followed Iran’s disputed 2009 presidential election.
What had seemed to many like the violent suppression of dissent by a reactionary ruling clique was, in Mr Talebi’s telling, a just response to the murderous tactics of British spies sent to topple the Islamic republic. The film has none of the high-tech gizmos and polished brawn flexed by more celebrated fantasy spies. The villains assembled by Mr Talebi are a gluttonous gaggle of iPhone-addicted, BBC-besotted dipsomaniacs who will stop at nothing to return Iran to the dissolute days of the Pahlavi shahs.
When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claims electoral victory, these enemy agents provoke green-clad supporters of the reform candidate, Mir Hossein Mousavi, into a frenzy. This senseless mob attacks a local chapter of the Revolutionary Guards, so security chiefs have no choice but to dispatch the Basij militia on their motorbikes to save the day.
The film, which has topped box-office receipts since its release on March 21st, wins approval from some. Along a busy shopping strip in Isfahan, Vahid and his wife Elham, both interior decorators, repair from the Family Cinema to the Kentucky House restaurant next door. “Was the film really so crazy?” asks Vahid. “I didn’t vote for Ahmadinejad, but we know the British have done this before. Why wouldn’t they try it again?”
Yet judging by the guffaws and whistles at some of the film’s more outlandish twists, others were unconvinced.“It’s unusual to show a political film. That’s why people are watching it,” says another Isfahani. “But it’s a misfire. All it does is get everyone talking again about what a fraud the 2009 elections were.”