A watershed in Iranian cinema, Dariush Mehrjui’s 1969 second feature follows the example of the Italian neorealists with its stark, sympathetic depiction of an impoverished village that’s suspicious of outsiders but glued together by kinship, religion, and compassion. Based on a short story that was first adapted into a TV play, it has the simplicity of a parable: the people of the village are thrown into chaos when a prize cow is found dead and its owner gradually develops bovine behavior. Yet the narrative allows Mehrjui to present a cross section of the community, surveying his characters’ foibles and sufferings with clarity and understanding. The black-and-white cinematography is remarkably spare and poetical but never succumbs to pictorialism, and Mehrjui’s cast of experienced stage actors is utterly convincing (Ezatollah Entezami is extraordinary as the cow’s mercurial owner). The Cow angered the Shah’s censors with its exposé of poverty and backwardness, and they allowed its release only after certain scenes were reshot. But the film later won praise from the Ayatollah Khomeini, and its social relevance inspired a generation of Iranian filmmakers. It kicks off a Mehrjui retrospective at the Film Center, with eight films tracing his career from prerevolutionary days to the present. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Sunday, January 3, 4:00, 312-443-3737.

–Ted Shen

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): film still.