“The Lovers’ Wind” - Albert Lamorisse (1978)

French filmmaker Albert Lamorisse’s The Lovers’ Wind (Le Vent des Amoureux, in Farsi: Badeh Sabah; 1978) is a dreamlike documentary film that scans Iran’s stunningly variegated landscape of both natural and manmade wonders.  Although this is a documentary film, the perspective taken here, somewhat like that of Lamorisse’s earlier short masterpiece The Red Balloon (Le Ballon Rouge, 1956), is that of an ethereal, mystical narrator/observer.  In this case the narrator is the personification of the wind up in the sky, who dreamily marvels at the various scenes he overlooks and sometimes affects.  But our narrator is not the only wind in the sky.  He is the gentle northwest Badeh Sabah (“Lovers’ Wind”), with an aesthetic disposition unlike most of his more blustery and destructive siblings, such as the Badeh Div (“Devil Wind”) and the Badeh Sorkh (“Crimson Wind”).

Lamorisse, the multi-talented producer, director, and writer for this film, was by this time famous for his innovative accomplishments.  This even included his invention in 1957 of the popular and sophisticated strategy board game, Risk, which features the possibility of multi-player alliances among the competing players in search of global conquest.  In the filmmaking sphere, he invented a steady-camera mounting system for helicopters, called “helivison”, which helped support his lifelong fascination for filming aerial subjects, as well as for filming ground-level subjects from the air.

So thanks to his unique aerial documentary capabilities, Lamorisse was commissioned in 1968 by the Iranian Ministry of Art and Culture to make a film celebrating Iran’s magnificent culture, from ancient times up to the present, that would feature his patented aerial photography [1].  After all, Iranian culture, notably its art, poetry, and architecture, has long been a critical contributor to the world.  And owing to its key geopolitical position in connection to the world’s trade routes across Eurasia, Iran’s cultural and economic innovations have spread far and wide across the globe [2].  In addition, Iran’s varied physical landscape features many beautiful elements that are worth calling attention to.

Lamorisse completed much of the shooting for the film in 1969, most of which (about 85 per cent) featured aerial cinematography, accordance with his own poetic view of what the film should be about.  However the advisors of Iranian Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi felt that Lamorisse’s results to that point had not sufficiently covered recent, more modernistic, accomplishments of the shah’s government.  So they insisted that Lamorisse come back and shoot more material featuring modern industrial developments, particularly the huge Karaj Dam northwest of Tehran.  This would entail more aerial cinematography near the dam, and Lamorisse had concerns about the dangers of flying a helicopter in the vicinity of the high-tension wires connected to the dam (earlier he had had nightmares that he would someday drown in the waters of the Caspian Sea).  The shah’s government persisted with their demands, however, and promised to provide Lamorisse with the shah’s personal helicopter pilot; and finally Lamorisse reluctantly agreed to come back in 1970 for the reshooting [1,3]. 

As it turned out, Lamorisse’s forebodings proved to be correct – during the reshoot his helicopter became entangled in the Karaj dam’s high-tension wires, and he and the helicopter pilot fell to  their untimely deaths.  Albert Lamorisse’s widow, Claude, and his son, Pascal (who as a six-year-old boy had been the star of The Red Balloon), both of whom had been working as assistants on this film’s production, ultimately took up the task of editing and completing the film in accordance with Albert’s original notes.  Finally in 1978 the completed film, in French, was released, and  it soon received a 1979 US Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Feature.
The Lovers’ Wind that we have today is certainly a gripping presentation of Albert Lamorisse’s original haunting vision of Iran.  Narrated eloquently by Manouchehr Anvar, who supervised the original French script’s translations into English and Farsi (Persian) versions, and with Guy Tabary’s expressive cinematography and Hosein Dehlavi’s evocative music, the completed work is a masterpiece.  It has finally and thankfully even been shown in 2016 to great acclaim in the country that embodies the film’s subject matter, Iran [4].

As already mentioned, The Lovers’ Wind pays tribute to Iran by showing the country’s fascinating features from the perspective of the wind.  Wind mythology is a feature of all ancient cultures, and winds are variously thought to metaphorically represent disruption, fate, and the forces of change [5].  In the case here we have a unique wind, Badeh Sabah, who looks down with fascination on the changing terrain he surveys.  This aerial perspective is afforded by Lamorisse’s helivision, which due to its front-of-the-helicopter camera mounting (previous helicopter camera mountings looked straight down), enabled a “wind’s-eye-view” of the landscape over which the wind was moving.  This facilitated long, sweeping camera shots from the overhead wind’s perspective as it blew over the land.

The roving narrative of The Lovers’ Wind passes through several stages as it progresses.

1.  Badeh Sabah and His Brothers
At the outset we are introduced to Badeh Sabah, a gentle northwest wind, as we see a dust storm swirling from his perspective.  But as he looks down at the terrain over which he is moving, he shows fascination with the traditional mud-brick human settlements that he encounters in the Iranian countryside.  In particular, he shows interest in manmade badgirs (“wind catchers”), which are traditional Iranian architectural structures for directing wind currents for ventilation purposes [6].  Then he talks about how he has learned to push rain clouds around in order to irrigate the land.  This nurturing approach is in contrast to Badeh Sabah’s bullying and destructive brother winds, such as Badeh Div (“Devil Wind”) and Badeh Sorkh (“Crimson Wind”), who like to wreak havoc on the world. 

As Badeh Sabah comes across windswept, abandoned ruins of ancient Iranian societies, which are now just the playthings of his nihilistic brothers, he contemplates, as he views them, the eternal presence of nomad societies, which never disappear.  Nomads just keep moving and living off the natural land and never stop reappearing.

Then he comes across the ruins of Persepolis, the ancient capital of the Persian Achaemenid Empire, which was destroyed and burned by Alexander the Great in 330 BC.  The full destructive spread of what was initially a small fire is something for which Badeh Sabah’s older brother, Badeh Div, proudly takes credit.  But in stark contrast to his brothers’ love of destruction of human-made structures, Badeh Sabah says he is fond of humans.

2.  Human Monuments
Fascinated with human developments, Badeh Sabah now goes to Isfahan and marvels at the fact that no matter how many times this magnificent city has been invaded, its inhabitants have always obliged its invaders to follow their own appreciation of beauty and culture.  Then Badeh Sabah goes on to Mashad and gazes at the impressive mosques there, after which he further gazes over the Zoroastrian fascinating burial towers in Yazd.  Then he heads south towards the Persian Gulf.

3.  The Sea and Sailors
When Badeh Sabah gets to the Persian Gulf, he overlooks various human-made structures associated with man’s interactions with the sea.  This includes docks, piers, as well as a number of boats, both large and small.  He observes that the winds have long helped sailors move across the waters and reach distant destinations. 

Then he becomes fascinated with and starts following large oil pipelines that run along the ground out from the seaport and off into the land to the north.  As Badeh Sabah traces these pipelines northward, we see them following their sinuous path over barren wilderness and representing a silent, almost mysterious, human presence that has left its mute and cryptic marks across a desolate landscape.

4.  Heading North
As Badeh Sabah continues northward, he starts encountering hitherto unseen greener environments.  He sees a lush world now sculpted with green bushes and trees.  Then he comes upon some steep mountain scenery and finally comes down to stop by for awhile to blow over and look into the Iranian emperor’s modern mausoleum. 

Then continuing northward through picturesque mountainous landscape, Badeh Sabah begins following railroad trains as they head up north along perilous cliffside paths, sometimes temporarily disappearing into long dark tunnels only to reemerge somewhere further on.

Finally Badeh Sabah comes down to gentler terrain, and here expresses his wonder at the natural beauties of terrace farming.  Badeh Sabah seems to prefer these instances of human interactions with nature, because here they manifest not examples of self-glorying human ambitions to defy or overcome nature, but instead examples of man’s efforts to harmonize with nature.  In fact when he gazes down at the terrace-farming ponds’ still waters reflecting images of the clouds in the sky overhead, he expresses his joy over man’s sincere efforts to reflect the sky.

5.  The Caspian Sea
At last Badeh Sabah comes upon the shores of the Caspian Sea, and again he gazes upon small boats moving over the waters.  On a hillside he encounters another fascinating example of a gentle human interaction with nature.  The entire hill has been draped with hundreds of newly crafted Persian carpets set out to dry.  The entire harmony and serenity of this scene is suddenly disrupted, however, by the villainous appearance of Badeh Div, who creates a turbulent wind that begins blowing away all the rugs into the wilderness.  However, Badeh Sabah starts pushing in the opposite direction of Badeh Div’s wind in order to thwart his devilish brother’s malicious intentions.  Again we are seeing an example of Badeh Sabah’s sympathies for humankind and its ways.

Finally, at the close of the film, Badeh Sabah comes across a loving newly wed couple who are desperately fleeing on horseback from the pursuit of the new bride’s possessive and oppressive brothers.  Badeh Sabah quickly intervenes on the lovers’ behalf, mounting a strong wind to hold back the pursuing brothers that allows the fleeing newlyweds to escape.  And he declares that he has finally identified for himself his true identity – he is the Lovers’ Wind.

Over the course of The Lovers’ Wind’s aerial survey of Iran, the viewer is given a feeling not only for the country’s natural wonders, but also for its human interactions with nature, in the form of monuments and activities.  And these human interactions with nature, as well as even human interactions with other people, are often inspired by the infinitely wondrous beauties of nature, itself.  This tendency is what came to inspire the Lover’s Wind’s sympathies.
It is my belief, unscientifically arrived at though it may be, that romantic love has long been a feature of Iranian culture, from the poems of Hafez, Attar, and Rumi down to the present day.  Iranian people often have an almost instinctive sensitivity and openness to love’s possibilities.  Hopefully the oppression that currently afflicts the Iranian people will soon be lifted so that they can more naturally express their inherent loving nature that is suggested by The Lovers’ Wind.

  1. Tiffany Malakooti and Lucy Raven, “On Albert Lamorisse’s “The Lovers’ Wind”“, Noise, Bidoun, (Winter, 2010).   
  2. Peter Frankopan, The Silk Roads: A New History of the World, Bloomsbury (2015).
  3. Liam Callanan, “The Final Flight of Albert Lamorisse”, Slate, (2 July 2018).   
  4. Mohamadreza Seyedagha, “‘Lovers’ Wind’ Carries Hall Packed to the Hilt”, Financial Tribune, (25 April 2016).   
  5. “List of wind deities”, Wikipedia, (26 May 2019).  
  6. "Windcatcher", Wikipedia, (1 June 2019).  

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