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Last Updated: Monday, 26 April, 2004, 17:49 GMT 18:49 UK
Cleric flick captivates Iran
By Sadeq Saba
BBC regional analyst

Iran's council of experts, which chooses the supreme leader
The film criticises the privileged position of clerics in Iran
A satirical Iranian movie depicting the life of a convicted criminal who disguises himself as a cleric has become a box-office hit in Iran.

The film, Marmoulak (The Lizard), was originally scheduled to be screened in late March during the Iranian new year holidays.

But the authorities found the message of the film offensive to the clergy and ordered it to be banned.

Later they allowed it to be screened with some cuts.

The film follows the fortunes of Reza Marmoulak - Reza the Lizard - a convicted thief who disguises himself as a Muslim cleric to escape from prison.

He then discovers the benefits of life as a preacher under Iran's clerical rule.

On his way to the border to leave the country illegally, he arrives in a village where the people have been waiting for a cleric to lead their Friday sermons.

Reza the Lizard becomes their popular religious leader and captivates their imagination by his simplicity and brings worshippers flocking back to the mosques.

Clerics angered

So one message of the film is that even a convicted criminal could go through a moral transformation and find God himself.

But what has probably angered conservative clerics is the underlying criticism of their privileged position in society.

Hardliners are also uncomfortable with the prospect of a criminal acting as a cleric and a mullah who does not know much about Islam and jokes with the worshippers.

Mocking clerics is a taboo under the Islamic government and The Lizard is the first film to cross this red line.

The director of the film, Kamal Tabrizi, has said that the clergy must understand that in order to be able to survive they should accept criticism.

Film critics say that The Lizard is one of the funniest films ever made in Iran about the clergy and they predict that it could become one of the most commercially successful Iranian films of all time.

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