IDFA 2018
Review: Kabul, City in the Wind

“This is our beloved country; this is Afghanistan, the fatherland of thieves,” sings bus driver Abas, sporting a charming smile, in the opening scene. The documentary debut..
The Ice Storm • Movie Review
In a wooded suburb, affluent adults stir restlessly in their split-level homes, depressed not only by their lives but by their entertainments. Their teenage children have started experimenting with the same forms..
Valkyrie • Movie Review
The 20 July plot in 1944 Germany

"Valkyrie" is a meticulous thriller based on a large-scale conspiracy within the German army to assassinate Hitler, leading to a failed bombing attempt on July 20, 1944..
Movie Review:
The Guilty (2018)

With its single setting and real-time story, “The Guilty” is a brilliant genre exercise, a cinematic study in tension, sound design, and how to make a thrilling movie with a limited..
Looking for Mummy:
Nazanin's Story

This electrifying portrayal of Nazanin-Zaghari Ratcliffe’s ongoing struggle to be released from an Iranian prison is a brand new play by Emi Howell..
Michael Moore on 'Fahrenheit 11/9' documentary
'We got here not by Trump. Trump didn’t create the mess we are in. When we get rid of him, we are still going to have the mess. We are still going to have mass shootings..'
Movie Review: Casino Jack
“Casino Jack” is so forthright, it is stunning. Political movies often play cute in drawing parallels with actual figures. They drop broad hints that a character is “really” Dick Cheney or Bill Clinton and so on. The film is “inspired by..
'Disappearance' • Venice Review
Teenage architecture student Sara claims to have been raped. She is bleeding and may require an operation. Yet, there is something about the situation that doesn’t ring true..
Movie Review: The Children Act (2017)
'The Children Act showcases yet another powerful performance from Emma Thompson, who elevates this undeniably flawed picture into an affecting adult drama..
TIFF 2018 • It’s That Time of Year for Paprika Steen
From Danish director and actor Paprika Steen comes a caustic comedy about the deep-rooted grievances that can rip families apart -- and the ties that bind them together..
TORONTO 2018: Soudade Kaadan • Director • Interview
'You don’t know how much you are traumatised until you leave.' Soudade Kaadan’s magical realist tale set in Syria in 2012 won Best Debut Film at Venice. Cineuropa chatted to..
VENICE 2018 • Interview
Sudabeh Mortezai on "Joy"

The second film by Sudabeh Mortezai, winner of the Europa Cinemas Label in the Giornate degli Autori, is a provocative unique and feminine take on human trafficking..
Film Review: A Fortunate Man
Bille August, the director of Pelle the Conqueror, nails another Danish classic. A Fortunate Man, as challenging as any project that August has taken on, is based on Henrik Pontoppidan’s Nobel Prize-winning Lucky Per..
As I Lay Dying (2018)
Mostafa Sayyari's free adaptation of William Faulkner's 'As I Lay Dying' will be screened in the Orizzonti Competition, which is dedicated to films that represent the latest aesthetic and expressive trends in..
3 Iranian films at Venice festival 2018
Three Iranian movies will be screened in the various categories of the 75th Venice International Film Festival which opened in the Lido on Wednesday..
Iranian 'Master Actor' Entezami Diess at 94
Ezzatollah Entezami, one of the most prominent actors of the Iranian cinema and theater, who was named ‘master actor’ in his memoirs, died on Friday at the age of 94..
Tickets on Sale Now:
The 11th Annual Iranian Film Festival - San Francisco

Iranian Film Festival - San Francisco, the first independent Iranian film festival outside of Iran, will present 48 films at its 11th annual event..
Putin's Witnesses
Interview • Vitaly Mansky
Cineuropa met up with Russian filmmaker Vitaly Mansky at the Odesa IFF to discuss his latest award-winning movie, Putin’s Witnesses. Putin in 1999 and what he is..
Brothers (Kardeşler) (2018)
Turkish filmmaker Ömür Atay’s Brothers is a heady slice of familial melodrama that centres on the fractured relationship between two brothers and the secrets of the past that threaten to tear them apart..
Tully (2018)
The Importance of Self-care
"Tully" unearths uncomfortable truths in a wry, wise way. It delves into the modern parenthood experience with an admirably deft blend of humor and raw honesty..
Film Review: ‘Pollock’
What happened to Jackson Pollock when he was painting? That's what Ed Harris communicates in the film. What Harris, in an Oscar-nominated turn, is able to show in "Pollock" is that..
'20th Century Women'
Chain-smoking and Birkenstock-wearing 55-year-old Dorothea "comes from the Depression," explains her 15-year-old son Jamie, as though "The Depression" is the planet Jupiter..
Film Review: ‘Aquarius’
Led by a powerful performance from Sônia Braga, Aquarius uses a conflict between a tenant and developers to take an insightful look at the relationship between space and identity..
Factory of Lies (2018)
The False News From Russia
Russia has launched an information war - introducing a new weapon. Hundreds of young Russian are producing fake news from fake profiles. But some brave Russian..
Film Review: ‘Mary Shelley’
“Mary Shelley” is a rarity: a literary biopic with an argument. Which is by no means to say that the film, directed by Haifaa al-Mansour (“Wadjda”) forgoes the expected pleasures of the genre..
The legendary actress leaves our world
Today the legendary Iranian-American actress Vida Ghahremani passed away after battling cancer for many years. She went beyond taboos of her time to have the very first..
A Thousand Times Goodnight: Absorbing fact-based drama
Beautifully filmed and powerfully acted, 1,000 Times Good Night achieves absorbing fact-based drama without overindulging in Hollywood contrivances. Starring Juliette..
Cannes 2018 • Changeless Change • Jean-Luc Godard and Jia Zhangke
“We are never sad enough for the world to be better,” laments a concluding female voice in 'The Image Book.' “Something that burns so..
Sridevi honoured At the Cannes Film Festival 2018
Veteran Bollywood actress Sridevi was honoured with the TITAN Reginald F Lewis Film Icon Award at the ongoing Cannes Film Festival..
CANNES 2018 • Awards
Hirokazu Kore-eda’s film has scooped the top prize, while other names on the winners’ list include Europeans Alice Rohrwacher, Marcello Fonte, Pawel Pawlikowski and Jean-Luc Godard..
CANNES 2018 • Un Certain Regard • Awards
CANNES 2018: Victory for the film by Swedish-Iranian director Ali Abbasi. Girl scoops the Award for Best Performance, while Sofia, Donbass and The Dead and the Others are..
Cannes Film Review: ‘Ash Is Purest White’
Jia Zhangke’s gangster epic is a twisting tale of love and survival in 21st-century China. A winding tale of love, disillusionment and survival that again represents his vision of..
Cannes 2018: Lars von Trier’s ‘The House That Jack Built’
It’s a drama that leaves you shaken yet detached, chilled and a little numb. Almost every scene in it has been overly designed to grab your attention..
Cannes Film Review: ‘Bergman — A Year in a Life’
Ingmar Bergman emerges as a compulsive figure with a very grand hunger in a penetrating documentary about his pivotal year of 1957..
CANNES 2018 Competition • 'Summer' (Leto) • Review
CANNES 2018: You'd be right in thinking this was a biopic, but Kirill Serebrennikov's new film – in the running for the Palme d'Or – is above all a ray of light and colour..
Cannes Film Review: Jean-Luc Godard’s ‘The Image Book’
Jean-Luc Godard's new film is a kaleidoscopic bulletin on the state of our world, and the question it asks could apply to itself: Is anyone watching?..
Iran’s Asghar Farhadi • On the push and pull of home
CANNES, France — The Cannes Film Festival opening-night premiere of Asghar Farhadi’s “Everybody Knows” coincided almost exactly with President Trump’s announced..
Cannes Film Review: ‘Sextape’
Half the conversation in “Sextape” is about blowjobs
Two cads treat their girlfriends like sex toys in a slice of bad behavior that would like to be a vérité youthquake but sticks to the raunchy..
CANNES 2018 • Un Certain Regard • Ali Abbasi • Border
CANNES 2018: Cineuropa talked to Tehran-born director Ali Abbasi about his sophomore effort, Border, based on a short story by John Lindqvist and screening in Un..
Cannes 2018: The directors who are banned from attending the film festival
Iranian film-maker Jafar Panahi and Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov – who both have films competing for the Palme d’Or – have..
'Wonder Wheel'
A larger-than-life Kate Winslet

Actress sets the screen on fire in filmmaker's torrid period drama about broken Brooklyn dreamers. Kate Winslet is on fire in Woody Allen's Wonder Wheel..
Through the Black Forest
A Rare Interview With von Trier
Here he looks back at his work, talks about his forthcoming movie, and reveals his idea for a new series of small films. Finally he makes a comment on his controversial statement..
Nasser Cheshmazar
'Rain of Love' creator dies at 68

A prominent Iranian composer who was best known for his memorable album “Rain of Love” and theme music for over 20 movies, died of a heart attack on Friday. He was 68..
The Young Karl Marx
Brainy Content Bracing
The early years of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and Jenny Marx, between Paris, Brussells and London. In Paris, Marx struggles, unpaid by Ruge, unable to provide for his wife Jenny..
'Lucky' • Movie Review
Harry Dean Stanton Gets the Goodbye He Deserves

Lucky is a bittersweet meditation on mortality, punctuating the career of beloved character actor Harry Dean Stanton. The late, great..
U – July 22 • Film Review
Norwegian kills for thrills?
Erik Poppe’s hyperrealist one-take dramatisation of Anders Breivik’s summer camp massacre offers little sign of moral perspective..
Interview • Kamyar Mohsenin
The Fajr International Film Festival’s manager of international relations, Kamyar Mohsenin, explains to Cineuropa how the gathering has played a vital role in the development of Iranian cinema..
Inuit drama "Aga"
Crowned best at Fajr Film Fest
Bulgarian director Milko Lazarov’s drama “Ága” about two Inuits that live with the dream of reuniting their family has been picked as best movie at the 36th Fajr International Film..
Interview • Director Sergei Loznitsa on Russia
The acclaimed Ukrainian director discusses his latest drama A Gentle Creature, the Ukraine-Russia conflict, and the ‘hell’ of Russian history. “Hell isn’t when horrible things..
Oliver Stone In Iran 2018
For attending Movie Festival
American movie director Oliver Stone was Iran on Monday attending an international film festival. Stone hosted a workshop for filmmakers during the Fajr Film Festival..
Cate Blanchett • To Lead Cannes Film Festival Jury
Chaired by Australian actress Cate Blanchett, the competition jury at the 71st Cannes Film Festival (9-19 May) has now had its line-up unveiled in its entirety..
CANNES 2018 Official Selection
Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Yann Gonzalez and Sergey Dvortsevoy are all now in the race for the Palme d’Or. Lars von Trier will feature out of competition, while Terry Gilliam will close the festival..
Lars von Trier
Receives Denmark's Largest Cultural Award

Denmark's largest cultural award of one million kroner, awarded to Danish film director Lars von Trier on Thursday at the University of..
IRAN NOW • A Mini Festival
The Danish Film Institute 2018
IRAN NOW is a mini festival that looks into the situation in Iran right now, as it is expressed artistically, culturally and socially. Through plenty of guests, we explore the..
The Party (2018)
It Knocks The Wind Out of You

Potter's comic dissection of the London intelligentsia's personal and political angst is completely of the moment. Old-fashioned charm meets sharp wit and modern social..
'Umbra' and 'Like a Good Kid'
Two Iranian movies join Cannes competition
Two movies by Iranian filmmakers will be competing in the Cannes Film Festival as the 71st edition of the event will open with..
Peter Bradshaw on the Cannes 2018 lineup
Some mixed signals with the traditional unveiling of the Cannes film festival’s official selection: a very lively and effervescent list, with eight newcomers in competition and..
Cannes Festival To Feature Films By Dissident Iranian, Russian Directors
France's Cannes film festival has made a show of support for dissident directors in Iran and Russia in unveiling its selection of films..
Cannes 2018
Un Certain Regard puts its faith in young talents

The Cannes selection features a strong European presence, six feature debuts, and films by Valeria Golino, Bi Gan, Ali Abbasi..
Jafar Panahi: Cannes 2018
French Authorities To Appeal Iran For Filmmaker’s Fest Presence. Cannes chief Thierry Frémaux said today that the festival will appeal to Iran for the filmmaker’s presence..
Copenhagen to screen
'The Home' (Ev) from Iran

A superbly cinematic chamber piece, 'The Home' (Ev) has been selected for screening at Danish Film Institute during a festival of Iranian films..
Last Men in Aleppo (2017)
Feras Fayyad’s Breathtaking Work
Academy Award Nominee for Best Documentary Feature and winner of the Grand Jury documentary prize at the Sundance Film Festival..
Doc on Farhadi’s “Salesman”
to premiere in Tehran

A documentary on Asghar Farhadi’s Oscar-winning drama 'The Salesman' is scheduled to premiere in Tehran in the near future. It will be screened at the Art and Experience..
'Everybody Knows' to open the Cannes Film Festival
The film by Iranian director Asghar Farhadi will be screened in competition as the opening movie of the 71st Cannes Film Festival starring Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz and Ricardo Darin..
Faces Places (2017)
A Visual Ode to Ordinary People

Agnes Varda is almost 90 years old and she is still making fantastic films. Searching, compassionate, provocative, funny, sad ones. This is one of them..
A Fantastic Woman (2018)
The story of Marina who undergoes several misfortunes after losing a loved one. A woman who is not granted the respect a grieving wife or girlfriend would receive. All she wants is be allowed to say goodbye, to grieve publicly..
‘In the Fade’ (2017)
A Tale of Grief and Violence

How should liberal societies deal with homegrown political extremists, who seek protection from the democratic norms and institutions they are committed to destroying?
John Malkovich • Interview
Recently, at the Hotel Caron in Paris, I got up to use the bathroom one night and found myself out in the hallway instead. But that is one of a million: I am a constant source of embarrassment to myself..
'Loveless’ (2017)
Unnerving and Fearless

Loveless is a stunning indictment of complacency, and a reminder of how fast something you love — like our democracy — can suddenly go poof if you look away..
The Big Lebowski
A typical Coen brothers film is like no film you've ever seen. It blows other more recent slacker comedies out the water and proves that Bridges can do any role..
Berlin: Mani Haghighi's "Pig"
Talks Buzzy Black Comedy

Iranian director and actor Mani Haghighi is a Berlinale aficionado. His gender-bender “A Dragon Arrives!” made a splash when it launched from the fest’s competition section..
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Anger is an energy in Martin McDonagh’s brilliant “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri ,” one of the best films of the year. A vigilante mother takes matters into her own..
36th Fajr Film Festival
winners honored

The annual Fajr Film Festival (FFF) came to an end on Sunday at Tehran’s Milad Tower after presenting awards to the best of cinematic productions in the past year..
The Glass Castle (2017)
Affecting, Moving and Well acted
A young girl comes of age in a dysfunctional family of nonconformist nomads with a mother who's an eccentric artist and an alcoholic father who would stir the children’s..
Lars von Trier receives the biggest award in Denmark
The biggest cultural award in Denmark, the Sonning Prize (Sonningprisen) this year goes to Danish filmmaker and screenwriter Lars von Trier, who was elected by a committee..
Armed With Words & Wings
Michael Strunge became the voice of a new generation and a mirror reflection of their identity and life, while he struggled with anxiety and psychotic attacks that pushed him to commit suicide at the age of 27..
THE INSULT (2017)
Civil War Beirut Style

Lebanese film director Ziad Doueiri made headlines recently when authorities in Beirut arrested him at the Beirut-Rafic Hariri International Airport for questioning about..
The Apu Trilogy
Achingly poignant, beautifully shot, and evocatively atmospheric, Satyajit Ray's classic trilogy is a masterpiece no cinephile can afford to miss. "I can never forget the excitement in my mind after seeing it..
Walk With Me (2017)
A thoroughly meditative cinema

One of the most calming documentaries you’re likely to ever see is “Walk with Me,” a documentation of Zen Buddhists and their community of Plum Village in France..
What Will People Say (2017)
TORONTO 2017: Cineuropa spoke with Norwegian director Iram Haq whose latest film 'What Will People Say' had its world-premiering at Toronto. “I used the knowledge I have to tell a story so we can build bridges..
Silence (2016)
A once in a lifetime movie

Is it moral to allow others to suffer when their suffering can be ended with a single symbolic gesture? Would God want that? Maybe the priest is destined to realize that it’s all right..
Sepideh Farsi preparing The Siren
1980, Abadan. The capital of the Iranian oil industry is resisting an Iraqi siege. Omid, a 14-year-old boy, has stayed back in the city, with his grandfather, waiting for his..
Sohrab Shahid Saless
The Experience of Exile

A visionary and truly transnational artist, Shahid Saless remained a solitary figure throughout his life. Still his films have left an indelible mark..
EUROPEAN FILM AWARDS 2017
The Square sweeps the Awards
Ruben Östlund’s film The Square – and more specifically a comedy – has taken home most of the awards from the European Film Awards ceremony..
Sophie's Choice • Review
Streep is memorable as Sophie

So perfectly cast and well-imagined that it just takes over and happens to you. It's quite an experience. 'Sophie’s Choice' begins as a young Southerner's odyssey to..
'Vanaja' • Movie Review
A wondrous piece of filmmaking
A Sensitive, Engaging movie from a first-time filmmaker. Rajnesh Domalpalli made this poignant 2006 drama as his thesis film for a master's degree at Columbia University..
Invasion (2017)
How Thirsty are you?

'Invasion' is Shahram Mokri’s third feature after Fish & Cat. Both pics experiment “with nonlinear narrative, thriller elements and point of view,” as Variety critic wrote in her..
Half Moon | Niwemang
A road movie unlike any other
The Kurds may not yet have a country, but as long as Bahman Ghobadi keeps making movies they have a national cinema. Bahman Ghobadi's Half Moon is a beautiful and..
Emma Thompson demands
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is brought home

Actress Emma Thompson has accused Boris Johnson of doing “sweet FA” for the British-Iranian woman imprisoned in Iran..
Kedi (2017) • Movie review
As soft and warm as a kitten
Kedi is a cat fancier's dream, but this thoughtful, beautifully filmed look at Istanbul's street feline population offers absorbing viewing for filmgoers of any purr-suasion..
'Young Torless' • Cruelty of Man Is Explored
A great psychological and philosophical treatise on how normal, well-to-do people, can turn themselves into "torturers and sacrificial lambs," as Torless himself states..
The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Movie Review
With uniformly great performances throughout the cast and Lanthimos’ stunning eye for detail and composition, this is one of the most unforgettable films of the year..
Until the Birds Return (2017)
My characters are at a turning point in their personal lives, yet they are not and do not want to be actors for change. In the 1990s an unprecedented civil war left 200,000 dead in Algeria, and tens of thousands..
The Divine Order (2017)
A hilarious comedy that hides ill-concealed discomfort
Petra Volpe continues to talk to us about women, and does so by turning the spotlight on a somewhat inglorious episode
Iranian filmmaker Cannot attend stokholm film festival
The acclaimed Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof has been denied exit from Iran and will not be able to attend the Stockholm International Film Festival..
WINDOW HORSES • A Canadian film about Iranian Poetry
A young Canadian poet with Chinese and Persian parents travels to Iran to perform at a poetry festival. Ann Marie Fleming’s..
A Look at “My Brother Khosro”
An intelligent movie dealing with a pain, a pain that without any pessimistic approach is part of a pain of a family, one of whose members has a mental problem..
ON THE BEACH 2017
'This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.' These lines from T.S. Eliot's poem The Hollow Men appear at the beginning of Nevil Shute's novel On the Beach, which left me close to tears..
Al Berto: A Biopic about the life of Portuguese poet
Liberty was there for the taking, but people had not been taught to be free and were not sure exactly what to do with it. Al Berto was ready for Sines, but Sines wasn’t..
Houman Seyyedi talks to CWB
I knew Houman Seyyedi as a very talented actor until I learned about him as a film director and then came the big suprise. After watching the four movies that..
Pouran Drakhshandeh talks about Under the Smoky Roof
Last Thursday, was the opening night of 'Under the Smoky Roof', a social drama directed by Pouran Derakhshandeh at the Fine Arts Theater, Los Angeles..
12 European films awarded At The Warsaw Film Fest
The Polish event’s Grand Prix went to the Chinese feature To Kill a Watermelon. Danish film The Charmer by Milad Alami won Competition 1-2 prize..
LOVING VINCENT (2016)
The final mysterious days in the life of Vincent van Gogh are the subject of investigation in this formally daring work, seven years in the making, that marries live action performance to..
Never Let Me Go
With Never Let Me Go, Mark Romanek has delivered a graceful adaptation that captures the spirit of the Ishiguro novel -- which will be precisely the problem for some viewers..
Interview • Milad Alami
SAN SEBASTIÁN 2017: Cineuropa chatted to Swedish-Iranian filmmaker Milad Alami, whose feature debut, The Charmer, is currently taking part in New Directors at San Sebastián..
Wild (2014)
Mini-Odyssey of a broken character
'I’m going to walk myself back to the woman my mother thought I was.' Powerfully moving and emotionally..
An Iranian film director
On the country's censorship

How does censorship work in Iran? The FRANCE 24 Observers team is publishing a two-part interview about censorship and Iranian cinema..
Mountain | Monte (2016)
Now, at 70 years old, Amir Naderi is a true international filmmaker. After "Mountain" (made in Italy) he is now ready to come home to US and start all over again. "It is just the beginning,"..
10th Annual Iranian Film Festival - San Francisco
Welcome to the 10th Annual Iranian Film Festival – San Francisco. This year, the festival presents 40 films from Iran, USA, Italy, France, Canada..
Shirin Neshat • Interview
VENICE 2017

Iranian artist Shirin Neshat remembers an iconic figure from Arab music on the big screen in Looking for Oum Kulthum, a film in competition in the Giornate degli Autori
VENICE 2017 • Interview
Emre Yeksan's The Gulf

“We live in a period of slow decay, and the smell won’t go away any time soon.” Emre Yeksan’s feature debut, The Gulf, has been premiered in the International..
Video Essay Explores
Orson Welles’ ‘F For Fake’

Most cineastes associate Orson Welles with films like “Touch of Evil” and “Citizen Kane.” But his 1974 oddity, is worth seeking out for those who wish to dig..
‘MOTHER! • VENICE 2017
7 Things to Know About

Darren Aronofsky's 'Mother' centers on a couple whose relationship is tested when uninvited guests arrive at their home, disrupting their tranquil existence...
Shirin Neshat • VENICE
'Looking for Oum Kulthum'

“story of an Iranian woman filmmaker, living in exile, who dares to make a film about an iconic Arab singer without being Arabic herself,” Neshat said in her first..
VENICE 2017 • Orizzonti
'Oblivion Verses'

Iranian filmmaker Alireza Khatami is presenting his debut feature Oblivion Verses in Orizzonti at Venice, where Cineuropa spoke to him about fantasy..
VENICE 2017 Competition
'Human Flow'

Artist Ai WeiWei is in the Venice competition with this documentary shot in 2015 and 2016, uncovering the growing crisis of displaced people across the..
Asghar Farhadi begins filming 'Everybody Knows'
The two-time Oscar winner is shooting this European co-production in Spain, with a Spanish-speaking cast headlined by Javier Bardem, Penélope Cruz..
The Song Of Scorpions
Anup Singh’s ambitious third feature stars Golshifteh Farahani and Irrfan Khan, following an independent woman as she struggles against hardship and treachery to remain true to her own instincts..
Tokyo Sonata :: Movie Review
An adventurous work both disturbing and ultimately moving. Kiyoshi Kurosawa's first domestic drama is music to general audience's ears..
The Homesman (2014)
A genuine art film
"The Homesman," despite the title, is about women. Women are the center of the action, women drive the action forward, women are not only damsels in..
MONSIEUR IBRAHIM :: Movie Review
Tender but never sappy, Monsieur Ibrahim brings two people of vastly different age and background together in ways that are touching, and telling..
The Innocents (2016)
'The Innocents’ is a profound meditation on a forgotten moment in history. Lou de Laage shines in Anne Fontaine's provocative historical drama. When Anne Fontaine’s “The Innocents” made its..
VENICE 2017 :: Venice Days
Samira Makhmalbaf named as jury president for Venice Days 2017. The Iranian actress and director will chair the jury made up of 28 young viewers from..
NETWORK (1976)
It's never been more timely
Criticised by some at the time for a certain naivety and lack of subtlety, this remains one of the most devastating condemnations of the media's urge to..
Woody Allen & his New Orleans Jazz Band at the Copenhagen Jazz Festival
The iconic filmmaker and clarinet player Woody Allen joins the international headliners at the Copenhagen Jazz Fest
Death And The Maiden
A thought-provoking piece
"Death and the Maiden" is said to be based on events in Chile, but it could take place in any of the many countries where rule is by force and intimidation..
'Insyriated'(2017)
Gripping from start to finish

This nerve-wracking study of life in Damascus won an Audience Award at Berlinale. Hiam Abbass holds together a household under siege in..
Ali & Nino (2016)
A fascinating story of two young people in love who found themselves between East and West cultures during World War I and Civil War when young democratic Azerbaijan Republic got squashed by..
Dangerous Beauty (1998)
Venezia's Hidden Treasure

Based on the true story of Veronica Franco, a well-born Venetian beauty who deliberately chose the life of a courtesan because it seemed a better choice than..
The Polygon People
The Documentary
A First look at the ‘most nuked place on Earth’ where Soviet Union detonated 456 bombs over the course of 40 years. A look at the way locals’ lives were..
‘When God Sleeps’ (2017)
winner of the Golden Heynal

The best music documentary film and hence the winner of the Golden Heynal award at the 57th Krakow Film Festival, by the decision of the Jury under the..
Cannes 2017 • Awards
And the winners are...
Ruben Östlund’s The Square wins the Palme d’Or. Pedro Almodóvar’s jury divided its prizes across a generally deserving spread of films..
Retrospective • Dustin Hoffman • The Graduate
Dustin Hoffman turns 80 later this year, the Irish Film Institute (IFI) takes the opportunity to celebrate the work of Dustin Hoffman, on the occasion of..
Mohammad Rasoulof's
Goodbye | Be omide didar
Another superb piece of work produced in Iran. Let's pause for a minute and reflect on just how difficult it is to get these movies made..
A Master's Final Frames
Cannes 2017

Movingly presented at the largest cinema in Cannes, the Iranian auteur Abbas kiarostami's final film may be the most experimental ever shown at the..
Iranian filmmaker wins major prize at Cannes
Iranian auteur Mohammad Rasoulof's bleak drama "A Man of Integrity" won the Un Certain Regard competition at the Cannes film festival on Saturday..
Kantemir Balagov's 'Closeness' at Cannes
A social realist debut from Kantemir Balagov is an intense film influenced by the Dardenne brothers. For the Un Certain Regard selection at Cannes..
Cannes’ FIPRESCI Prize goes to (Beats Per Minute)
The international critics have crowned Robin Campillo’s film BPM (Beats Per Minute); Closeness and The Nothing Factory also awarded..
The award winners of the Cinéfondation unveiled
Student films from Belgium, Iran and France, awarded at the Cinéfondation. The jury of the Cinéfondation, chaired by Cristian Mungiu, has handed prizes..
The Golden Eye goes to 'Faces, Places' at Cannes
The film by Agnès Varda and JR has won the award for the best documentary screened across the various Cannes selections this year..
'They' (2017)
Movie Review • Cannes 2017

A minor-key portrait of an identity crisis. Jane Campion executive produced Iranian-born director Anahita Ghazvinizadeh's debut feature..
Susan Sarandon talks film and politics • Cannes 2017
In the run-up to the screening, Sarandon, who was named an ambassador for the beauty brand last year, sat down with WWD to talk film..
Loveless (2017)
Cannes 2017 • Movie Review

Such a haunting experience that it remains absorbing even when it doesn't go anywhere. Russia has always been a cold and dreary place in the cinema of..
Get Out (2017)
With the ambitious and challenging “Get Out,” Jordan Peele reveals that we may someday consider directing the greatest talent of this fascinating actor and writer..
Karim Moussaoui
Interview • Cannes 2017

Cineuropa met up with Karim Moussaoui to discuss his first film 'Until the Birds Return', presented in the Un Certain Regard section at the 70th Cannes Film..
Alejandro Jodorowsky's 'Endless Poetry' (2016)
Alejandro Jodorowsky's 'Endless Poetry' is the most accessible movie he has ever made, and it may also be the best. It's Felliniesque and moving..
The Other Side of Hope
Movie review

Five years after Le Havre, Finland’s deadpan morose-romantic master delivers the second part of a prospective ‘dockyard trilogy’ with this..
Lerd (2017) • Cannes
Interview with M. Rassoulof
Iranian filmmaker Mohammad Rassoulof represents Iran at the Un Certain Regard competition section of the 70th Cannes Film Festival with his latest film ..
Arnaud Desplechin talks about 'Ismael’s Ghosts'
CANNES 2017: French director Arnaud Desplechin talks about Ismael’s Ghosts, which was screened out of competition at the opening of the 70th Cannes Film..
Happy End (2017)
Cannes Film Festival
First Clip from Michael Haneke’s ‘Happy End’ Features a Very Unhappy Dinner Party. After all, this is the director behind such films as 'The White Ribbon,' 'Amour..
Vanessa Redgrave Sparks
'The Loves of Isadora'

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Interview with Mahmoud Kalari

Godfrey Cheshire's Interview with
Mahmoud Kalari


By Godfrey Cheshire,  Film Comment
on September 12, 2018

The following interview was conducted mainly in Farsi and translated by Tania Ahmadi.

When Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation became the first Iranian film to win the Oscar for Best Foreign-Language Film of 2012, it gave the world a look at the work not only of one of Iran’s most acclaimed writer-directors but also of an Iranian cinematographer whose skills have contributed to dozens of important films of Iran’s post-Revolutionary cinema.

Born in 1951, Mahmoud Kalari started in the 1970s studying photography, and later became a renowned news photographer whose images of Ayatollah Khomeini and other figures of Iran’s Revolutionary era appeared in magazines around the world.



After turning to cinematography during the mid-’80s revival of Iranian cinema, he collaborated with many of Iran’s leading auteurs, including Abbas Kiarostami, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Dariush Mehrjui, Jafar Panahi, and Farhadi.

He is also known for encouraging and working with younger directors such as Mani Haghighi (Pig) and Shahram Mokri (Fish & Cat, 2013). In addition to acting in a Mehrjui film, he wrote and directed 1997’s The Cloud and the Rising Sun. His cinematography has won numerous awards at festivals around the world.


A Separation

From September 14 to 30, the Museum of Modern Art saluted his work with “The Eye of Iran: Cinematographer Mahmoud Kalari,” a 12-film retrospective. The following interview was conducted mainly in Farsi and translated by Tania Ahmadi.

Where in Iran did you grow up, and what was your family like?

I was born in Tehran in a very old house in which my father was also born. I was surrounded by a very traditional and religious family. During my childhood, no one I knew had a camera, so I had never seen any sort of camera or other art medium in my house. We led a very simple life. My father sold tea at the bazaar. We lived in that same house until I was seven years old, and then we moved into another house in Tehran. The good thing about the new house was that there was a great movie theater next to it. It was located on Rey Street and called Cinema Ramsar. This cinema was later demolished. At the age of 15, I got my first photography camera. As I told you earlier, I have no clue how I became interested in photography. Perhaps it was during that very first encounter with the camera, when I went to the photography studio with my uncle. After I got the camera, I spent all my time taking photos. There was no specific subject or theme in the photos I was taking. However, when I later looked through all the photos, I realized that there actually was a theme I had not noticed. People who were alone captured my interest the most. Later, I had my first photo exhibition under the title, “The Story of a Man in Solitude.”


Gabbeh

During that period, cinema became more important to me as well. I started to read reviews and articles about cinema. Some film critics, such as Jamsheed Akrami and Parviz Davaie, whom I now know very well, shaped my understanding of cinema. I really liked cinema, but I never thought of becoming a cinematographer. When I was 20 years old, I participated in an experimental cinema institution, where they made 8mm films. I made two 8mm films and, surprisingly, I did not shoot any of them myself. It was Ahmad Amini, a good friend of mine who is now a film director, who shot my films.

How did you begin your career as a photographer?

I started getting into photography when I was 15 or 16 years old. I loved it so much and I printed all the photos myself. There was this small room in our house that I changed into a darkroom where I could print. The process of printing those photos in that light seemed like magic to me. When I was 20 years old, our neighbor Kambiz Derambakhsh introduced me to Kaveh Golestan. At that time, Golestan was the head of the photography section of a newspaper. When he saw my photos, he edited them and selected a few. Then, he explained why those selected photos were more interesting than the rest. Just like that, he introduced me to the meaning of “concept” and “thought” in the art of photography. Two years before the Revolution of 1979, Golestan had a photo exhibition at Tehran’s university. He arranged an exhibition for me right after his own, and there I made my first significant mark on the world of photography. Of course, after that I started to think about my themes and subjects more deeply. I knew that I had to say something with my pictures. I was introduced to the concept of photo-essay and I started to work in that field. The aesthetics of visual creativity became the core of my concerns and later of my works. I started to closely study the portfolio of famous photographers around the world, including the works of Golestan. The subject of revolution played a great role in my career. I took many photos in the midst of the Revolution, and at that time I started to work for a photography agency. As a photojournalist, I worked for Sigma Agency for four years. My photos were published in many magazines around the world.

What led you to transition from a still photographer to a film cinematographer?

I entered into the world of cinematography in 1984. Masoud Jafari-Jozani was well educated in cinema, and he had just travelled from the U.S. to Iran. I had my fourth photo exhibition and he came to see my works. At that time, he was making a short film called Talk to Me [1984] for the Center for the Intellectual Development of Children and Adolescents. Touraj Mansouri was shooting that film and he asked me to come to the set to take pictures. I did the photography for the film and that was how we got to know each other. When Jozani decided to make Frosty Roads[1985], he invited me to collaborate as a cinematographer. I was a bit hesitant, as I had never shot any films before, but Jozani convinced me that I would be able to shoot the film with a 35-milimeter camera. The shooting took place in the winter and we were shooting in the snow. That was actually one of the most difficult projects I have worked on in my entire life. I also took the camera home for one week and carefully studied everything about it. And so, I started to learn the techniques of cinematography while I was shooting my first film. It was a unique beginning for me, as I did not begin my career in cinematography as an assistant, but as the main cinematographer. The film was screened at the 4th Fajr Film Festival and I won the prize for the best cinematographer. This was how I became a cinematographer. [Laughs] Then well-known directors such as Mehrjui and [Masoud] Kimiai started to call me, inviting me to collaborate on their films. That was a fantastic beginning!

I have seen the film, and it is beautifully shot. Did you have any difficulties while shooting Frosty Roads?

Oh yes. That was a difficult film to shoot. We had to shoot in the snow with limited equipment. You know, when you shoot in the snow it is hard to get all the shots right. The quality of the shots worsened and often became blurry, so you couldn’t even get a good shot of a face. We tried to find something in Tehran to avoid those problems. We were lent some cameras that an American had brought to Iran to film something. Those big cameras had adequate equipment for shooting our scenes in the snow.

The first auteur film director you worked with was Mohsen Makhmalbaf, and you made four films with him. How did you end up working with him? Also, Makhmalbaf did not have a very good reputation within the film industry early in his career. So what was your opinion about his reputation at that time?

Makhmalbaf had two important periods in his early career. In the first period, he made films that were not significant. In the second period, he made The Cyclist [1989] and The Marriage of the Blessed [1989], which became huge hits in Iranian cinema. They had specific visual structures. He was a really interesting director in my opinion. He changed a lot in the time between his first and second phases. He wrote a short novel called Time to Love (or Time of Love) [1990], and he wanted to make it into a film. It was a strange story and somehow it showed that his way of thinking was changing. We made that film in Turkey because it was impossible to shoot in Iran. It was eventually banned in Iran forever. At that time, it was easy to make films in Turkey. The cast was Turkish and the crew was Iranian. We shot the film in 17 days. They never screened that film in Iran. I liked and enjoyed the way he changed both as a person and as a filmmaker over the course of the years, and that was the reason I wanted to work with him. I realized that he was completely aware of what he was doing, and that also helped me in my decision to continue collaborating with him.

Gabbeh [1996] is a beautiful and unusual film that you had to go to the remote central highlands of Iran to shoot. It was supposed to be a film about nomadic people who were making gabbehs (primitive carpets), but then it ended up being something else. Please tell me about the shooting of that film.

Let me tell you the story. Yes, Gabbeh was supposed to be a documentary. When we went to the Cannes Film Festival with Salaam Cinema [1995] and Time to Love, we had just finished shooting Gabbeh. We just needed to edit the film. When we presented those two films at Cannes, Makhmalbaf realized that, although he wanted to send Gabbeh to Cannes the following year, he could not do so, because Cannes did not accept documentaries. Therefore, he decided to change that documentary into a fiction film. On our way back to Iran, on the airplane, he started to craft the story on a napkin. In Tehran, he told us that he had come up with the story and that he could change the documentary into a fiction film.

It was like a journey. Makhmalbaf had just met a man named Abbas Sayahi, who then became the lead actor of the film. His main occupation was coloring carpet threads using plant dyes. He extracted colors from plants and, with those organic colors, he colored the threads used to make carpets. Gabbeh’s main plot was based on how he carried out this process of coloring the threads. Thus, the main themes of the film were plants, colors, threads, and, of course, carpets. For me, color was the most important. We only had two cars, limited equipment, and a very small crew. Today, if we want to make a film in which color plays a dominant role, we can easily achieve our vision in the post-production process. We can easily add color to any film using digital technology. But at that time we did not have that technology, so I had to color the negatives by hand myself. For instance, for long shots, or landscape shots, I added green gel color, and for the sky I added blue gel color to enhance the shot. I colored all of them in front of the camera lens. In cinema’s early days, they used to do the tinting on glass shots. I did the exact same thing, but with filters. It took us near forty days to finish filming.

Let me tell you another story about the people on set. We were shooting a scene in the film near a small lake. At one point, we saw the moon’s reflection in the lake and we really liked the effect it gave. We were not ready to shoot, so we decided to go back a month later to capture that moment again. We needed our camera to be positioned higher than ground level, so we managed to make it three meters high, and with a ladder and tripod it went even higher. Eventually the camera was five meters above the ground. I arranged the frame, and we were just waiting for the moon to reach the perfect point in the sky. There was also a pregnant woman who was supposed to pass by in the shot. I was busy managing the light with my light meter. Makhmalbaf announced that we could shoot, and then we heard him say, “Sound, camera, go.” Suddenly, a man came onto the scene completely out of the blue, holding the pregnant woman’s hands and dragging her forcefully off the scene. We were shocked. Mohsen was shouting, “Stop him! Stop him!” but there was no one down there to stop him. Mohsen jumped off the ladder behind the five-meter high camera and ran after him. I was sure he had broken his leg, but he did not even realized how badly he jumped. I was shouting that I had captured the moment and that there was no need to run after the man, but Makhmalbaf paid me no attention. Later, we found out that the man was the woman’s husband and that he did not want her to be in our film. Makhmalbaf then became very sad. He wanted to go to their house to apologize. He asked us what the point of filmmaking was when we had just made someone upset. We all thought he was overthinking it, but he did not let it go. He was crying, begging us to take him to the man’s house. I was thinking how strange Mohsen was. He had jumped from that great height to stop the man and now he wanted to see him to say how regretful he was. You know, he had very unique characteristics. [Laughs]

Before you shot Gabbeh, you and Makhmalbaf set out to make another drama. But first came Salaam Cinema, a totally impromptu film that resulted when he published an ad for a casting and thousands of people came. Did that really happen?

Yes!

Were you surprised as well?

Very much so. At that time, we did not really know what to do. We just looked at each other in amazement. Makhmalbaf could not believe it. Four to five thousand people came for the audition that morning, at around 8:30 a.m.


The Fish Fall in Love

Can you tell me how that casting evolved into a feature?

It was one of the most unique experiences of my entire life, and I have had many throughout my career. We intended to make the film that we made afterwards, A Moment of Innocence [1996], but before shooting it, we decided to call for an audition for the first scene of the film, meaning that we would use that audition as the first scene of the film. So we really did not intend to make Salaam Cinema. When we saw the huge crowed at the audition, we were very surprised, and then we started to film the crowd. It was such a chaotic situation and we tried so hard to organize it well, but some people attacked the door in order to get inside and they actually broke it. This event is also in the film. We did not expect such a thing. Another issue was time. We really did not want to spend that much time on the audition, but that very day we could not do anything else but test those who had come out to audition. Later, Makhmalbaf decided to spend a few more days on the audition and to film the attendees, because no one would leave unless they auditioned. After a few days, Makhmalbaf thought that this footage could become its own documentary. We actually had to rent another camera because we wanted to film these people as quickly as possible. At that time we used 400-foot reels, as there was no 1000-foot film in Iran, so we had to change the reel every four minutes. When my assistant changed the reel I went to film with the other camera. On day six, two girls came for the audition. They were both very good, so they had to compete against one another. Then, something came to Makhmalbaf’s mind. He decided that one of the girls would test the other. So he brought one of the girls behind the camera and let the audition continue. He then realized how differently people behaved when their positions changed. At that time, Makhmalbaf asserted that we had our story and that this audition could be used in the film!

Eventually I realized that Makhmalbaf had bothered and assaulted people on-set. It was hard for me to witness this behavior, so I took several breaks to go out and smoke. Mohsen noticed this and came after me. Outside, he told me how unhappy he was and how stressed out he was about his own behavior toward people, but he said it was all for the sake of the film. Makhmalbaf wanted to expose the harsh and unpleasant nature of cinema. He wanted to show how far people would go when they were exceedingly fond of something. In many cases, despite the fact that people were humiliated, they embraced his contempt. Mohsen softened my uneasiness with his words. This is how Salaam Cinema came into being. It was a film that was made during the audition process and its details were added piece by piece. Its ideas came to us while we were shooting the film.

So how long did it take to shoot the entire film?

Seven to eight days!

You talked about the power relationship, and it seems that this is what the film is about, with Makhmalbaf playing the film director as tyrant. Did he actually say, “I am not being myself, I am playing a character”?

Yes, as I have said, that was all a show for our film. He is such a sensitive person. And when I became upset about his behavior, he came to me and explained everything, that he was just acting. Let me tell you something interesting. Once a girl who was wearing chador came to the audition. Makhmalbaf asked what she would do if she was offered the role of a girl who was not supposed to wear chador. She panicked. She hesitated because she was married to a man who happened to be religious, and he liked that she was wearing a chador. So she said, “I do not know.” Then Mohsen told her that she was not obliged to answer straightaway, and she was given some time to think. Mohsen moved on to the others at the audition, but I did not move the camera. I recorded the girl while she was thinking. It was such a precious moment. I could not make myself cut, and I followed her with my camera. Then she came back to the set. Makhmalbaf asked her if she was ready to answer and she said, “If my husband does not let me play the role, I will leave him.” Mohsen was so shocked. So he came to me, asking if I had heard her response, and I told him that I had recorded everything from the beginning. He was very happy and excited about it. He could not believe it. [Laughs] There I relied on my background in photography. The relationship between my feelings and the object, the sensation I felt when something was going to happen in that shot. When I was following her, I was thinking about the concept of photo-essay.

In Gabbeh, color is the main character. In Moment of Innocence, light is a main character. How did you and Mohsen come up with this idea?

In Gabbeh, Mohsen was working with Abbas Sayahi very closely. Sayahi’s profession was making colors for carpets. Mohsen wanted to make a film based on colors. Thus, time was very important for us. That is, we had to think about when to film those colors in order to capture the essence of real colors, like those in the sunset and sunrise. For Moment of Innocence, the atmosphere and architecture of the set was important to him. Because of this he tried very hard to find a place like the bazaar that you see in the film. That bazaar was not in Tehran. It was in Naeen, a very small town near Isfahan. It was an old bazaar that they kept open for tourists, so the bazaar at that time had no shops or any other businesses. The architecture of that bazaar was very important to Makhmalbaf. So the difference between these two films is that one of them was based on color and light, whereas the other was based on architecture. After the Revolution, no one touched the architecture of that bazaar. Some parts of it, such as the main doors, were renovated, but the bazaar was and still is very beautiful and popular with tourists. When we were shooting the film, all the stores were closed. There was a sense of silence and peace that Makhmalbaf loved so much, because his intention was to only showcase characters. He wanted to shoot the film in a quiet place so that the center of attention would remain on these three characters only: the woman and two men.

Dariush Mehrjui’s The Cow [1969] launched the Iranian New Wave of the 1970s, then he returned to prominence after the Revolution. You worked on three films with him, all significant because of their actors’ performances. Leila Hatami in Leila [1997], Niki Karimi in Sara [1993], and Golshifteh Farahani in The Pear Tree [1998] all began their acting careers with Mehrjui. Can you tell me about working with Mehrjui and actresses, particularly when you worked with a new actress?

For me, Mehrjui was the first director who was familiar with the language of professional cinema, and he himself worked very professionally. Every new idea was always unique. He had all the details in his mind. It was very strange for me to imagine how a director could picture an entire film in his mind, but Mehrjui was like that. Let me tell you a story. We were shooting Sara, the first film that we worked on together. There was a scene in the hospital in which the main actress [Niki Karimi] had to go up the stairs. There was a shot of her foot, followed by a shot of her hand. I wanted to take a shot of her face when she turned around and changed her direction on the stairs. Mehrjui wanted to see only the face and nothing else. So she turned toward the camera and we shot the stairs in a wider shot separately, but the space was very small. It was only one meter. Mehrjui did not like it. Therefore I asked my assistant to change the lens to 50mm. We were so close to the actress that when she came up the stairs, there was only a tiny space between her and the lens, like the smallest space imaginable. [Laughs] We needed a minimum of a 50- to 55cm distance from the actress. The camera and lens, or the objective, did not accept less than that. Because the actress was more than 55cm from us, and her image was neither focused nor sharp. I told Mehrjui that it was impossible, and if he wanted we could change the lens to 35-40mm. I told him that we needed the wider lens in order to capture her image properly. He said that it did not really matter. I told him again that the image of the actress was not in focus and he said, “It is not important, Mahmoud.” He said that we had more frames of that scene and that no one would notice it in the editing process. What mattered was that he wanted to have a shot of the actress’s face on the screen. My assistant was surprised, but at the same time he agreed to do as he was told because we all believed that Mehrjui had everything set in his mind. So we did not change anything and that shot is actually in the film. So at that time, I realized that Mehrjui was someone really exceptional in cinema.

He had a special way of working with actors. I think this was not because of any special method but because of his intelligence. It was not about his directorial skills but rather his comprehension and wisdom in understating the characters and the significance of the actors’ expressions. For instance, in The Cow, the main character was played by Ezzatolah Entezami. All of his subsequent roles were very close to his character in The Cow: the way he talked, the way he expressed emotions, and so on. Later, Mehrjui directed Mr. Haloo. The main character was played by Ali Nassirian, who was a professional theater actor. All of Nassirian’s later roles were influenced by the way he performed his role in Mr. Haloo [or Mr. Gullible, 1970]. He repeated the same method of acting. The same thing applies to Khosrow Shakibai and his unforgettable role in Hamoun [1990]. All the roles Shakibai played after Hamoun were deeply influenced by his role in that film. He carried Hamoun’s traits within himself at all times: the voice, the motions, the expression, and so on. Mehrjui did not do anything magical, but he had an invaluable skill in choosing actors. He chose someone whose own character was nearly eighty percent identical to the character they played. If Shakibai did not have Hamoun’s traits, he definitely would not have been chosen for that role. The same thing applied to Leila Hatami, Niki Karimi, and Golshifteh Farahani, who was then 15 years old.

I also acted in one of his films. [Laughs] I played the role of the doctor in The Lady [1992]. At that time, I knew nothing about acting. One day, while I was shooting something elsewhere, he called me and invited me to play a role. I asked him hesitantly, “Really? Why do you think that I am able to act”? He said that he was sure about it. I did not give him any response and I told him that I was in the midst of shooting something. I was afraid to act, and I also knew that acting in Mehrjui’s film, where everyone would act very well, would be even more challenging. I was trying to find excuses not to go to the set. Then one day, Mr. Entezami called me saying that they were shooting the film for a month and that Mehrjui had simply skipped the parts that I was supposed to act in. Despite the fact that they had a contract with a professional actor to play my role, in the end Mehrjui insisted that he wanted me to play the role of the doctor. Mr. Entezami then convinced me to go to the set and assured Mehrjui that I was not able to play the role. With that purpose, I did actually go. I ended up playing the role of the doctor who was in love with the main actress in his youth and, when her husband abandoned her, was the one to take care of her. We shot most of my parts without rehearsals. I was really stunned that he did not want to have any rehearsals. In the first take, my mind went blank and I literally forgot everything. But in the end, I managed to play my part well and he was very satisfied with my performance.

In Sara and Leila, the visual language is distinctive. There is a fading out and fading in of colors. How did that work? What did Mehrjui think about that?

Yes, Mehrjui thought a lot about those colors and the fading ins and fading outs. He was thinking about the colors red and yellow for those films. He had something particular in mind for the atmosphere of those films. He gave me a book that consisted of pictures, but I do not remember the name of the photographer. He was very much influenced by those pictures. The colors and details of that book stayed with him and affected him very profoundly. What I am trying to say is that he always had something in his mind. Sometimes, it came from a photo, sometimes it came from a book, sometimes from a painting, and so on.

You first worked with Abbas Kiarostami in The Wind Will Carry Us [1999]. How did you get that job?

We knew each other for more than 10 years. We were friends before making films together. I believe we both hesitated to work with each other for whatever reason. I hesitated because I wanted to maintain our friendship, but I do not know his reasons. [Laughs] Working with Kiarostami was difficult. In many cases, you had to completely fall under his spell. We went on lots of journeys together and collaborated on a lot of photography together. For instance, before he made And Life Goes On [or Life, and Nothing More…, 1992]  we went on a trip and took lots of photos. So we had a good relationship. Before making The Wind Will Carry Us, he visited the location of The Pear Tree, which I was shooting. He liked our gaffer, my assistant Behzad Dorani. He told me that he wanted to test Dorani, because he believed he was suitable to play a role in his film. And that was how Behzad Dorani got the main role in The Wind Will Carry Us. Kiarostami did not want Dorani to feel like he was an actor in the film. Hence, he asked me to go to the set, since Dorani used to work with me all the time as a part of my cinematography crew, so in this way, he would think that he was a part of the cinematography group and not an actor. Kiarostami never had many people in his crew. He always believed that the entire crew had to fit in two cars. [Laughs] Sometimes I think it was because of Behzad Dorani that I actually worked on that film as a cinematographer. Abbas was very strange and funny. I read somewhere that he said he found Dorani on the street. [Laughing]

Another funny story was that he was always taking lots of videos and photos of Behzad, and the night before shooting the film he called me, saying that he thought Behzad was not a good fit for the film. I was very shocked, and I told him that he had to calm himself down because we had no time to bring in another actor. But he insisted that he wanted to test two other guys. I went to his place and he told me to call Behzad, because he wanted to take more videos of him. I said no, because it was very late and we had to be on set early the next morning. But I could not dissuade him, so in the end I called Behzad and asked him to come. Two other guys came as well. One of them was actually Parviz Shahbazi, who is now a well-known director. Kiarostami pointed to Shahbazi and told me that he thought Shahbazi was better that Dorani. I asked him if he was sure about that and he said yes. We spent another three hours shooting videos of Shahbazi, Dorani and the other man, whose name I do not remember. After a couple of hours they left. Then we looked over the videos together and he was not sure which one of them to choose. I was worried, because the shoot was at 8 a.m. and by then it was 3 a.m. In the end, he came to the conclusion that Behzad Dorani was the best fit for the role. Sometimes, I think maybe he wanted to work with me, and that was the reason he chose Dorani. The film contained lots of shots of landscapes and I think he liked my work in Gabbeh, which I shot before his film, and that film had lots of landscape scenes.


The Wind Will Carry Us

What was your experience making that film with him in Kurdistan?

It was exactly like making a documentary, because we were working in a school. It was summer and the school was closed. The location was between Kermanshah and Sanandaj. The place that we stayed was far from the shooting location, and every day we drove around two hours to get there. Bahman Ghobadi was our assistant and production manager. He did lots of things for us because he was the only one among us who spoke Kurdish fluently. He prepared almost everything for us. We started early in the morning, let’s say at around 4:00, 4:30 a.m., when it was completely dark. We went to the location and worked eight to nine hours every day, and then we went back to the camp.

Was it Bahman Ghobadi who decided the schedule or was it Kiarostami himself?

It was Kiarostami of course! At the time Bahman Ghobadi could not say anything. [Laughs] Everything was decided by Kiarostami. Ghobadi was only an assistant. Kiarostami never let anyone say anything. He was self-assertive. That is why I am saying that it was very difficult to work with him. He never listened to anyone or to any ideas. Sometimes, he got mad when we suggested other methods or other ways. He constantly asked us to let him do whatever he had in mind. I know that sometimes people stopped working with him because of this very thing. For instance, in the case of Where Is the Friend’s House [or Where Is the Friend’s Home?, 1987], they changed the cinematographer because he and Kiarostami could not work together. That was Kiarostami. No one could intervene in his work. It was very funny, but there were some problems between Ghobadi and Kiarostami, and Kiarostami at some point wanted to fire him. But we convinced him that we really needed Ghobadi to translate for us and without him we could not finish the film. It was difficult to work with him, but it was also really fantastic. He had some uniqueness, and because of that it was worth working with him.

Let me tell you something fantastic. We were all sitting in the car. We always carried our equipment just in case Kiarostami suddenly wanted to film something. We always had to be ready to shoot. On our route, there were of course people wandering around the villages or walking along the side of the road. Once, he saw someone and he stopped the car, and then he asked us if we were ready. He then called out to the person on the road and asked them to come over. It did not really matter if that person was a man or a woman, or even a child. He just wanted to start a simple conversation. He asked random questions and we filmed the whole conversation. But we did not know what the point of those questions was. One of the questions that he asked repeatedly was, “Where is Siyahdareh?” It was the name of a random village that came to his mind. Then he would ask, “Where is Goldareh?” Goldareh was the name of the village where we actually were. Then, the person would say that we were in Goldareh. Surprisingly, Kiarostami asked that person how he knew where Goldareh was, as the name was not mentioned on the map nor was there any sign of its name in the village. He was curious as to how people could find the village. People answered this very wonderful question so differently. Some replied that they knew it by heart, while others replied and pointed out some signs, and so on. But Kiarostami was not satisfied with their answers until one day a man replied thusly: “We never leave the village, so we do not really need to look for it.” Kiarostami did not say cut at that moment. He loved it so much. That was what he wanted. He always wanted to investigate, to explore. This is what I mean about his uniqueness. He came up with those magnificent questions and he was very eager to find the best answer.

Kiarostami was a photographer himself. I was wondering, when you made a film like this, did you choose the camera or did he decide on the camera? How did you make those decisions?

Honestly, those decisions were made by both of us. As I have said, we did photography together. Sometimes we had different visions. But he knew exactly what he wanted. He always chose the perfect location. He knew the lighting and everything else so well. In many cases, we waited three to four hours to get the best lighting for a picture. He had a fantastic vision and a wonderful visual mind. As you know, he was a great painter as well.

Let’s talk about Shirin [2008]. I know it was shot without the actresses knowing what film they were supposed to be watching. They were just looking into the camera. What did Kiarostami tell you about the film?

At first he wanted to put on a film and record the actresses’ reactions to the film. But the evening of the shooting day, he changed his mind and decided to use voice only. At first he was thinking of using the narrative and music of Romeo and Juliet, which he later changed to the well-known Iranian tragic romance Shirin and Farhad [1970]. He wanted to see the actresses’ reactions. He told the performers to imagine the film or anything that would arouse some sort of emotion such as grief, sadness, or melancholy. Each performer reacted differently, and he decided if the reaction went well with the performer’s face. I honestly did not know what he had in mind. He asked some older Iranian actresses, such as Poori Banaei and Iren, who used to be stars and acted in films before the Revolution of 1979, to be in the film. Those actresses were very excited to perform in front of the camera one more time. They had not appeared in front of the camera for more than twenty years. Being on set after so many years and seeing Kiarostami as a director made them exceedingly happy and joyful.

A Separation is a very distinctive-looking film for various reasons. You used a lot of barriers. How did that visual language come about for the film?

Farhadi had experiences working with hand-held cameras in some of his films, such as About Elly [2009] and Fireworks Wednesday [2006]. In Separation, he wanted to do the same thing but with more narrow lenses and compositions formed and created with people. What I mean is that if in About Elly we saw two shots, three shots, or even some long shots that characters moved in those spaces, in Separation we moved along with the characters. We basically followed the characters. Sometimes, we started with an over-the-shoulder shot and then moved on to a two-shot and sometimes a three-shot, and once again we went back to more closed and limited spaces. It was an exceptional experience, especially in filming those shot-reverse shots, which I believed to be exemplary models that could be taught at universities. Those shots were very accurate, perfect, sincere and sensitive, and sometimes it made everyone believe that those shots were taken with two cameras. I even heard from a world-famous cinematographer that he thought we had filmed those shots with two cameras, and I told him that we shot all of those shots with only one camera. All the shots were taken with one hand-held camera, which weighted seven kilos. Farhadi never believed in making a film with two cameras. He always wanted to control each shot very attentively. Even if we were given five cameras, he only used one. Separation was the most accomplished and perfect version of hand-held camera work that I have ever worked on in cinema.

Did you rehearse a lot?

Yes. Too much! Sometimes, we rehearsed a scene more than 12 times.

Did you shoot a lot of takes?

No. We could not shoot many takes because we did not have many negatives. That was the problem in Iran. Normally we were given 100 to 120 rolls and we had to finish with those limited rolls. That was the main reason we had many rehearsals before shooting the film.

How did the actors do in that situation? Was it hard for them?

It was very difficult for the actors. Farhadi started the rehearsals 45 days before shooting the film. That was the main reason why actors came to the first day of shooting well-prepared. Farhadi had a background in theater, so in the rehearsal process he trained actors to work on their emotions. He wanted to work with Marion Cotillard in The Past [2013], but Cotillard was unable to come to rehearsals 40 days before shooting. She could come one week before shooting, and Farhadi did not accept that. He collaborated with Bérénice Bejo instead. Honestly, I do not know any directors who would spend that much time on practicing, and that was his key to success.

What about those things that you were looking through? Those windows? Those barriers?

During the rehearsal process, we tried to find the location. Normally in Iran, we go to people’s houses to shoot, so all the locations are real. We never use sets. That is the reason it was very hard for Farhadi to make The Past in Paris, because all the locations were made for him. French producers told him that it was impossible for Farhadi to search for locations in people’s houses. [Laughing] Back to Separation, after searching lots of houses, we eventually found the apartment. He asked the art director to take out the doors, and so on. He built the doors again. For the old man’s room, he ordered a door with stained glass. He changed all the colors. He decided to make some changes to the walls. He made some spaces in colliders. He changed everything in the apartment completely. He went back to the location late at night, like at 2:00 am, and thought about the shots and pictured them all. He would then call me at that time, consulting me about his new ideas. He did the rehearsals somewhere else with the actors, but every day he would go back to the location to check, change, and practice. He practiced everything himself, found the best way, and then asked people to do it.

So he figured out all the composition on his own?

Yes. Exactly!

By Godfrey Cheshire on September 12, 2018 for Film Comment


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