Taghi Amirani’s Coup 53 works as a metafilm of sorts as the director and his editor Walter Murch show raw footage of the film to Alison Rooper. Rooper, by the way, worked in the research department of a Granada Television series with the title End of Empire. There is an episode on End about Iran. But that episode, which talks to agents whom the MI6 assigned in Iran, doesn’t correspond with the original transcript and research notes. This is of interest to Amirani for reasons beyond the obvious ones. And that’s because the transcripts of that show are pieces of a puzzle of a history that still affects his country and family.
In order to understand Coup 53‘s aims, let’s back up a bit. I asked a few people what they knew about Iran, and that small sample talked about the country with a great culture living under a theocracy. Not to brag, but that’s less than what I thought I knew about Iran. The Americans, less than 70 years ago, kicked out Iran’s prime minister, Mohammed Mossadegh, because of oil and socialism. The film, then, elaborates that the British controlled oil extraction in 1950s Iran. Mossadegh, as a good head of government would, tried to being his own country’s resources back into public hands. And because of that the British wanted him out despite of consequences they couldn’t foresee.
Amirani sees that the average person doesn’t know about Mossadegh. And he, through his film, argues that Mossadegh and the coup against the former prime minister deserve more than to be a historical footnote. Every piece of the puzzle is important, even the assassination of Mossadegh’s police chief. His argument and methods are successful for the most part. But part of that method involves putting himself in front of the camera to fawn over newspaper archives. These scenes feel repetitive and are filler between him contextualizing the importance of these events. These scenes also feel like they’re reinforcing what the average viewer knows about Britain.
But Britain’s participation in economic imperialism does deserve that contextualization just to show the harm it caused on the individual level. The best scenes involve interview subjects recounting the day of the actual coup. These scenes then cut to reenactments that combines animation and live action. Amirani still uses many elements of the average documentary. But he effectively makes his viewers feel something for the people who see history as mournful memories. Some active historical participants died before Amirani could interview them. So he gets, for example, an actor like Ralph Fiennes to play a missing MI6 agent. These interviews remind his viewers of a horror story that people should learn.
Stream Coup 53 at https://www.hotdocscinema.ca/