The Night of the Hunchback

English Title: The Night of the Hunchback

Original Title: Shab-e Ghuzi

Country of Origin: Iran

Studio: Irannama Studio

Director: Farrokh Ghaffari

Producer(s): Farrokh Ghaffari

Screenplay: Jalal Moghaddam

Cinematographer: Griom Hayrapetian

Editor: Ragnar

Runtime: 91 minutes

Genre: Comedy thriller

Starring/Cast: Farrokh Ghaffari, Zakaria Hashemi, Mohammad Ali Keshavarz, Pari Saberi, Behrooz Sayyadi, Farrokhlagha Hooshmand, Khosro Sahami

Year: 1964

Volume: Iranian

Asghar Ghuzi (The Hunchback) is a member of a Persian traditional comedy troupe who perform in theatres or rich people’s houses. One night after the end of a private performance at the residence of a wealthy couple, the landlady (the hostess) gives Asghar a piece of paper, on which is a list of smugglers, to deliver to someone. Asghar goes to the suburbs of the city to have dinner with his friends, but accidentally dies when one of his friends tries to put some food in his mouth by force. His friends, shocked by his sudden death, get rid of his corpse by dumping it next to a barbershop. The owners of the barbershop, who are smugglers and intend to go on a trip, put Asghar's body in the yard of a house where there happens to be a wedding reception. Yet, when they leave the shop, they are suspected by the police. The bride's father finds the dead body and takes it out of town. The hostess is informed of Asghar’s death and goes after a drunken man who found the list of names in Asghar’s pocket by chance. They are tailed and found in a bakery. The police arrive and arrest the woman, the man, and his collaborators.

The Night of the Hunchback is Farrokh Ghaffari’s third film, made after the banning of Jonoob-e Shahr/The South of the City (1958) and the box office disappointment, Aroos Kodomeh/Who is the Bride?. The film is a black comedy loosely based on a tale from One Thousand and One Nights (Arabian Nights) and is one of the few modern and intellectual cinematic experiences in Iranian cinema made by one of the forerunners of its New Wave. Ghaffari and his scriptwriter Jalal Moghadam (his second collaboration with Ghaffari), brought the characters of the classic story of One Thousand and One Nights to the modern world so that the story could resonate with people and reflect the political and social situation of Iran in the 1960s.
Set in a popular theatre troupe, the story follows the sudden death of a comedian (The Hunchback) in a farcical accident. The Hunchback is a victim of the foolishness and pleasure-seeking disregard of his friends, and subsequently his cadaver becomes the driving force of the comedy as it gets passed around from person to person. The corpse works just like a Hitchcockian Mcguffin, as with the body of Harry in The Trouble with Harry (Alfred Hitchcock, 1955) and similarly reveals the corruption, hypocrisy, and fear within a society living under the dominance of horror and despotism. The corpse of The Hunchback falls like a disaster from the sky over the head of a bunch of bad guys involved in felons and sins, disturbing their calmness. What a policeman says to the corpse of The Hunchback at the end of the film, implicitly transfers the metaphoric theme of the film: ‘Your death has brought everything to light.’    
Ghaffari’s  socio-realistic approach and his innovative narrative style was totally new and shocking at the time and therefore not welcomed by the ordinary audiences of Iranian cinema, inhabited by the simplicity and naivety of Film Farsi productions. The film characters can be categorized in four bands: the naive and dumb people (such as the members of the troupe); smugglers and gangsters (the landlady and the owner of the barbershop), drunken and carefree people; and the police force who intend to control society. The comedic tone of the film has been influenced by the French comedies of the 1950s, especially the films of Jacques Tati, but Ghaffari give it an Iranian flavour by relying on Persian traditional performing art.
Ghaffari takes a critical and satirical approach towards upper-class Iranians in this film. Coming from an aristocratic family, Ghaffari himself was well aware of wealthy Iranian culture and behaviour and was therefore able to convey this in a very effective manner, filled with rock 'n' roll and revelry alongside traditional attitudes. Ghaffari’s profound knowledge of Iran’s traditional and ritual performing arts, such as Ta’zieh and Siah Bazi theatre, enabled him to creatively use some of these attractive theatrical elements in his film. The whole story occurs within one night, one of the ‘One Thousand and One Nights’ happening in Modern Tehran in the 1960s. Thanks to the narrative structure of One Thousand and One Nights and the appealing theatrical features of Iranian traditional comedy plays, Ghaffari successfully manages to create a balance between the grotesque and mysterious atmosphere, and the realistic critical modern approach towards Iran’s society in the film.
The casting of some top and well-known stage actors of the time like Pari Saberi, Mohammad Ali Keshavarz and Khosro Sahami, shows Ghaffari’s idiosyncratic and elitist tendency in Iranian cinema in the 1960s. The film was shown in some international film festivals, such as 1964’s ‘Cannes and Locarno Film Festival’ and was welcomed by western film critics and historians like George Sadoul. Despite some of its technical and narrative shortcomings, The Night of the Hunchback has a unique place in the history of Iranian cinema and is regarded as an intellectual film which has developed the language and culture of cinema in Iran, and paved the way for the formation of the Iranian New Wave.

Author of this review: Parviz Jahed