Spatial Narration in Amir Naderi's New York Trilogy

Document Type : Research Papers


Shiraz University, Iran



This article is concerned with the relationship of language and city in Amir Naderi’s trilogy of films on New York, comprising of Manhattan by Numbers (1993), A, B, C… Manhattan (1997), and Marathon (2002). By dint of a narrative relied on spatiality, he is in fact able to causally link the solitude and the spectral existence of his protagonists to the lack of a common language for reconciliation and integration within the urban landscape. Whereas this narrative approach only minimally uses plot, it brings about an opportunity for sensory perception. Rather than employing narrative as a form of collective daydreaming where the real social conflicts are resolved on a mere fantastical level, Naderi’s films highlight the exclusion of the individual from the collective but in doing so they allow for a more totalizing understanding of social existence. Further, this tendency towards spatiality is concomitant with the inadequacy of language (as a fixed set of signifiers and signifieds) for the articulation of the individual’s experience within the vaster context of the city. By putting the stress on the cityscape, Naderi appears to be promoting city itself as a discourse whose semantics unravels only through direct physical contact. I wish to examine corporeal communication in these films in relation to the semiology of urban space as outlined by Roland Barthes and Henri Lefebvre.


Barthes, Roland. The Pleasure of the Text. Trans. Richard Miller.  Hill and Wang, 1975.
---. “Semiology and the Urban.” Rethinking Architecture: A Reader in Cultural Theory. Ed. Neil Leach. Routledge, 1997. 158-72.
---. S/Z. Trans. Richard Miller. Blackwell Publishing, 1974.
BBC Persian. “Amir Naderi on Amir Naderi” [“Amir Nāderi be revāyat-e ’Amir Nāderi”]. July 26, 2018. Video, 55:20. Web. 2 Feb. 2019. <>
Canby, Vincent. “Reviews/Film Festivals; Staying Hot on the Trail of a Cooled Friendship.” New York Times (April 2, 1993). Web. 2 Feb. 2019. <>
Copjec, Joan. “Imaginal World and Modern Oblivion: Kiarostami’s Zig-Zag.” Filozofski vestnik vol. 37, no. 2 (2016): 21-58.
Dabashi, Hamid. Masters and Masterpieces of Iranian Cinema.  Mage, 2007.
Elden, Stuart. Understanding Henri Lefebvre: Theory and the Possible. Continuum, 2004.
Gadassik, Alla. “A National Filmmaker without a Home: Home and Displacement in the Films of Amir Naderi.” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, vol. 31, no.2 (2011): 474-86.
Lefebvre, Henri. The Production of Space. Trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith. Blackwell, 1991.
---. Writings on Cities. Trans. Eleonore Kofman and Elizabeth Lebas. Blackwell Publishers Ltd., 1996.
Levy, Emanuel. “A, B, C… Manhattan.” Variety (June 23, 1997). Web. 2 Feb. 2019. <>
Marks, Laura U. Touch: Sensuous Theory and Multisensory Media. University of Minnesota Press, 2002.
McGowan, Todd. The Real Gaze: Film Theory after Lacan. State University of New York Press, 2007.
Naficy, Hamid. A Social History of Iranian Cinema, Volume 4: The Globalizing Era, 1984-2010. Duke University Press, 2012.
Nowell-Smith, Geoffrey. “Cities: Real and Imagined.” Cinema and the City: Film and Urban Societies in a Global Context. Eds. Mark Shiel and Tony Fitzmaurice. Blackwell Publishers Ltd., 2001. 99-107.
Prince, Stephen. Visions of Empire: Political Imagery in Contemporary American Film. Praeger, 1992.
Wood, Robin. Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan… And Beyond (Expanded and Revised Edition). Columbia University Press, 2003.