Though much of this film is a straightforward lecture on dental hygiene delivered by a dentist facing the camera, it still manages to be persuasively Kiarostami-esque in its description of young Mohammad-Reza’s life at home and at school before he falls prey to tooth woes. That some audiences find the film amusing testifies to the humor that can accompany great discomfort.
“There are some, however, who do feel betrayed – not those he’s made films with and about, but others who seem to resent his international standing and imply that the ‘festival favourite’ must be selling out. The idiocy of this position is evident as soon as one considers the development of his oeuvre. Why would anyone keep making such challenging, contrary, different films if he or she were mainly concerned with fame and fortune? Kiarostami is an unusually restless artist, curious about the world and how he can explore it in his art, and reluctant to be categorised or constrained, either by others or by his own reputation. He’s always been his own man (this probably, ironically, a consequence both of his having originally been state-funded and of his not being much of a cinephile). Even at the time of the Revolution, he had his own agenda, making films about the ethics of being an informer and on how to look after your teeth[.]”
“Toothache (1980), one of the later films in the series, is possibly the most representative example of Kiarostami’s educational cinema made for Kanun. The film, designed simply to explain to children why they must clean their teeth, is certainly the longest, the most didactic in tone and the most highly structured of all Kiarostami’s shorts. The tale is in two parts, the first dealing with the young protagonist’s severe toothache during his usual school activities, and then the visit to the dentist, with the latter’s explanations about proper dental hygiene and the prevention of tooth decay, appropriately illustrated using effective animation techniques. Probably one of Kiarostami’s least interesting films, it was apparently given an excellent reception and enjoyed quite a wide circulation.”
“In Dandan-dard [Toothache] (1980), Kiarostami experimented with an ironic reading of pain. While the grandfather and father of young Mohammad Reza have long since passed the age of having toothaches and now enjoy the benefits of dentures, the boy suffers from a bout of toothache which results in his being excused from school and sent to the hospital, where he is given expert advice by a dental hygienist. The convenience of the father and grandfather’s dentures renders the young boy’s toothache quite paradoxical. Wouldn’t he be more comfortable with a pair of small dentures? The narrative also rests on a typically Kiarostami[-]esque pondering on the relationship of constructed reality (dentures) to reality (teeth). Here the artistically re-created make-believe (dentures) is privileged over the naturally created reality (teeth). Toothache was made for Kanun and has all the appearance of a documentary to be shown around the country to teach children the benefits of oral hygiene. There are charts, cartoons of little devils working their nasty business on teeth, and the rather supercilious seriousness of the chief dentist at the hospital explaining the benefits of oral hygiene while the poor boy suffers under his gesticulating arms.”
- 1Geoff Andrew, 10 (London: British Film Institut, 2005), 79.
- 2Alberto Elena, The Cinema of Abbas Kiarostami (London: SAQI in association with Iran Herritage Foundation, 2005), 30. Translated from Spanish by Belinda Coombes.
- 3Hamid Dabashi, Close Up. Iranian Cinema, Past, Present and Future (London/New York: Verso, 2001), 58-59.