When a movie is praised for being ”beautiful,” that’s usually a sure sign that it’s a dud. Not in the case of Gabbeh, however. The first film by the Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf to be released in this country, it’s a work of dazzling visual brio, a love story in which the images, at once playful and poetic, express an enraptured romantic temperament rooted in the power of folklore. At the beginning, an old, nearly ancient rural couple engage in the daily washing of their gabbeh, a sacred rug that pictures the tale of their courtship more than 40 years before. A beautiful maiden — it’s the old woman when she was young — rises out of the rug to relive the story of how she was carried away, against the threats of her father, by a horseman who wooed her with wolf calls. The bold, almost psychedelically vivid images are woven together with a dreamlike density as pure as that of The Blood of a Poet or Natural Born Killers. Makhmalbaf draws his visions from the primal colors of the landscape, from the rituals of Iran’s nomadic culture, and from the notion, at once touching and hypnotic, that love itself is an act of storytelling — a daily reliving of the past that becomes the present. A

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