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Babek (1979)

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Title: Babek (1979)

Babek (1979) on IMDb 7.9/10

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Cast overview, first billed only:
Rasim Balayev
Gasan Turabov
Amaliya Panakhova
Tamara Yandiyeva
Shakhmar Alekperov
Mamed Verdiyev
Khamid Azayev
Enver Gasanov
Gamlet Khani-zade
Gadji Murad
Samandar Rzayev
Gadzhi Khalilov
Ramiz Melikov
Eldaniz Rasulov
Aliabbas Kadyrov


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10 January 2006 | by (Turkey) – See all my reviews

The film "Babak" (1979) which was directed by Eldar Guliyev was a product of cooperation between "Azerbaycanfilm" and "Mosfilm." The prominent Azerbaijani historian – Ziya Bunyadov was one of the advisers. The film has used historical material about Babak and Khurramis as skeleton and has added its own flesh to it. Sequence of events and characters are represented according to historical sources. However there are overtly anachronistic elements. Narrative and representation is distorted according to the needs of official Soviet ideology and Azerbaijani nationalism. Representation of Babak and Khurrami movement is completely compatible with Soviet Azerbaijani historiography in this sense. Babak is represented as a national hero who fought for equality in the society, common ownership and moral subjugation. He is also a hero fighting for the freedom of Azerbaijan against Arab invaders. The film depicts how Babak joins Khurramis, how he gets to the top of the movement, his struggle against various Arab commanders send from Baghdad, and lastly his capture and execution.

Babak's place in Azerbaijani history and culture may seem strange considering the fact that Azerbaijanis are Muslims and Babak is known for his resistance against Muslim Arabs and caliphate and his brutal treatment of Muslim population. However this actually represents the strong anti-clericalism and Muslim secularism in Azerbaijan. Following the Russian colonial rule powers of the clerical establishment were severely restricted and not like other places in Muslim world secular intellectuals had chance to publish and proselytize their own works. Secularization process continued during the Soviet period as well, and this can explain why identifying with a figure like Babak does not bear inherent conflict for most Muslim Azerbaijanis. In the movie the rebellion is not motivated by religious factor; the conflict portrayed has its seeds in patterns of property ownership and nationalism. Babak is represented as a hero fighting for equality of men and freedom of Azerbaijan. Although Babak and Khurramis are represented as non-Muslims the conflict between them and Arabs is not between Muslims and non-believers, actually there are Muslim elders who are supporting Babak.

There is obviously abundance of anachronistic elements in the film. In the first place the representation of Babak as the national hero who fought for the freedom of Azerbaijan is highly problematic. Apart from this, in the movie the primary source of motivation for Khurramis in their struggle is equality among men and common ownership; the terms equality and freedom are used as equivalents. In fact there is no sound evidence for community of goods among the Khurramis.

There are many elements of symbolism in the movie. Red flag and color is associated with Khurramis and black flag and black color is associated with Arabs and the Caliphate. When Afshin offers Babak cooperation to overthrow Arab Caliphate to establish Iranian state – Babak rejects this offer and replies: "I have committed to ideals which demand freedom or death … Either you will be destroyed under the black flag of the caliphate or I will be destroyed under the red flag of the Khurramis." Arab army is associated with destruction, fire and slavery. In one scene on the route of Arab army we see a vulture on a dead body and a crying child next to a dead mother.

Two other striking elements from the film are treatment of woman and relationship between Iran and Azerbaijan. Javidan's wife Zernise is depicted as an active figure who controls the affairs of the castle after her husband's death, and decides who would take his place. She also attends meetings of the decision making council of Babak's commanders and her opinion counts.

Iran and Azerbaijan are treated as two different entities in the film. Although many Azerbaijanis claim that during the period population of the region was Turkic – hence different from the rest of Iran, Iranian sources maintain that people were predominantly Persian and the region should be considered as part of greater Iran. In addition, in the film, there is clear reference to Tabriz as Azerbaijani land, and there is delineation of borders between Iran and Azerbaijan in a sense that Hamadan is not considered part of Azerbaijan, whereas Tabriz clearly was.

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