In recent decades Iran has been defined by the 1979 Islamic Revolution, which brought the strict Islamic regime of the Ayatollahs to power and forced the Shah into exile. The post-revolution years were characterised by political repression and international isolation, which is still largely true for Iran today. However, despite the political upheavals and restrictions, Iranian artists, writers and filmmakers continue to produce compelling works which question Iran's political regime and its place in the world, even though they risk censorship and imprisonment by doing so. The contemporary culture of Iran is thus often defined by the dialogue between political repression and artistic freedom; whilst also engaging with Iran's rich Persian cultural heritage.
This rich Perisan heritage of Iran is evident in the works of Omar Khayyám; the classical poet and philosopher of Persia, whose tomb lies in the city of Nishabur, in northern Iran. The English poet and writer Edward FitzGerald translated and released The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám in the late 19th century, which brought about a new appreciation of Persian culture and literature in Europe. One of the most influential writers of the twentieth century was Houshang Golshiri, whose book The Prince looks at the decline of Iranian aristocracy in the 1960s, he has been celebrated for the political consciousness of his works and for his introduction of modern literary forms to Iranian literature.
The strenght of Iranian cinema is recognized throughout the world for its pioneering social realism and the way in which it has negotiated the sensitive political terrain of the post-revolution years. 'New Wave' Iranian filmmakers of the 1960s, such as Abbas Kiarostami, Forugh Farrokhzād, Dariush Mehrjui and Bahrām Beyzāi, made compelling films which interrogated the politics of Iranian society. More recently, the Makhmalbaf family (which includes five award-winning filmmakers) has gained popularity in arthouse circles worldwide through showing their films at international film festivals, despite the difficulty in getting them released in Iran. Samira Makhmalbaf's first feature film The Apple, made when she was 18, was shown at the Cannes film festival to much acclaim.
The 2009 film No One Knows About Persian Cats, directed by Bahman Ghobadi, was also shown at Cannes and won the Special Jury Prize. It is a story about young musicians in Tehran trying to get visas to tour in Europe and features a soundtrack assembled with both traditional Persian music and modern indie music from Iran.