Radiograph of a
I can't go back to
Classic Docs anymore
By Vladan Petkovic, IDFA
Taskovski Films brings Norway’s
Radiograph of a Family to IDFA
Iranian director Firouzeh
Khosrovani triumphed at IDFA 2020 with her fourth film
Radiograph of a Family, winning the main award in the IDFA
Competition for Feature Length Documentary and the IDFA Competition for Creative
Use of Archive.
After the film's world premiere on November 24,
the director had a Filmmaker Talk with critic and curator
started the Filmmaker Talk by showing a clip from this film,
in which we see window shop mannequins being mutilated (i.e. a worker uses a saw
to remove the breasts) as they become unsuitable for society after the
“Mother married a photo of Father,” says director Firouzeh
Khosrovani in the opening of this deeply personal documentary.
She’s not speaking metaphorically though. Her mother
Tayi literally married a portrait of Hossein in Teheran—he was
in Switzerland studying radiology and was unable to travel back to his homeland
for the wedding.
The event illustrates the abyss that
still exists in their marriage: Hossein is a secular
progressive and Tayi a devout, traditional Muslim. But this family history is also a sort of x-ray, laying bare the
conflicts of Iranian society in the run-up to, and aftermath of the Iranian
Revolution in 1979.
commentary, we hear letters being read aloud and recollections of conversations
between her parents. At the same time, we see photographs and videos from the
family archive. These fragments of intimacy are interspersed with stylized shots
of the filmmaker’s parental home, its altering decor and furnishings subtly
reflecting each new phase in her parents’ conjugal life—and in Iranian
Iranian director Firouzeh
Khosrovani triumphed at IDFA 2020 with her fourth film Radiograph of a
Family, winning the main award in the IDFA Competition for Feature Length
Documentary and the IDFA Competition for Creative Use of Archive. After the
film's world premiere on November 24, the director had a Filmmaker Talk with
critic and curator Pamela Cohn.
Cohn said that in her work she focuses on life in modern-day
Iran, with an emphasis on the female experience. This is very much the case with
her latest film, in which she looks back at the dichotomy
within her family, with a religious mother and a secular father. Using a wealth
of archive footage and fictionalized dialogues between her parents, Khosrovani
presents a chronicle of the family against the background of political changes
in Iran, with the 1979 Islamic Revolution at its
Themes that persist in the director's
But all these themes were there in Khosrovani's
work since her first short documentary Rough
Cut from 2008. Cohn started
the Filmmaker Talk by showing a clip from this film, in
which we see window shop mannequins being mutilated (i.e. a worker uses a saw to
remove the breasts) as they become unsuitable for society after the
story of mutilated female mannequins was like a metaphor manufactured to
minimize female characteristics. This was the core idea to do this
film," said Khosrovani.
"When I noticed for the first time in shop windows in Tehran these amputated
mannequin bodies, I thought it was a metaphor for veiled bodies of Iranian
women. It was bizarre and at the same time artistically very interesting, kind
of a Buñuelian image of cutting the breasts."
In her 2014 film Fest of Duty, Khosrovani tells a story that
mirrors the one in her latest film. She films two seven-year-old girls who are
cousins and best friends, and then comes back eight years later to find them
very distanced from each other. One girl's family is secular, and the other's is
religious. It transpires that this is the reason they fell apart. The filmmaker
was inspired to tell this story as she was curious about a custom that was
strange to her.
"It was interesting because this celebration of coming of age in schools for
nine-year-old girls was something that we didn't have in my time," Khosrovani
recalled. "It was a new invention of the Islamic Republic for the schools. I saw
some clips of it and I thought it's interesting how they celebrate the
transition into adulthood for religious duties. When you get to the age of nine,
you have to fulfill all the religious duties and responsibilities of an adult
"I was thinking it's very early for a little girl, as her body is still not a
woman's body. Then I did an interview with girls aged nine and I collected them,
but I thought it wasn't not enough to make a film. So with the passing of time,
when they became teenagers, I went back to them and did a casting. I chose two
girls who are cousins in two different families, very symbolically, like two
poles of the Iranian society.
"Somehow in all my films it's about the idea of the
relationship between power and an individual, religion and the individual,
censorship and self-censorship. This is my main challenge. The same thing
happens in Radiograph of a Family."
Torn between two
This was cue for Cohn to move the conversation to Khosrovani's new film.
"Your parents really began their life outside of Iran. Your father was
training in Europe as a radiologist, and embracing the more Western, secular way
of living and realized what the joys are of that," she said. "You made a
stylistic jump here and re-created this world of your parents through a very
fragile process. And memory is always tricky."
replied: "It's based on my childhood memories. My mother went through the family
albums and she ripped out all the images she thought were inappropriate after
the Revolution, and that's where the core concept comes from: torn-up pictures,
a torn-up family.
"And then some connected ideas came to my mind: my mother's scoliosis, my
radiologist father, X-ray as a metaphor of scanning the body, scanning a home,
scanning history... It's an assemblage of all these axes that I put into the
storytelling in the narrative about dichotomy within a family. I was torn between the two realities, the two poles. I wanted to
show that the ideology of Islamic Law was reflected inside our home and affected
every corner of our domestic life. So the Revolution took place in our home, as
Revolution as the main turning
In order to show how this, Khosrovani
had a house set built, and used it to depict the passage of time along with
ideological changes that came with the Revolution.
"I designed these scenes in order to create a narrative space as a container
of the film," she said. "It was very time-consuming to stage everything and
choose objects that are meaningful and do something with them—eliminate some of
them, replace some of them, take down a new painting from the wall when Islamic
Law entered the home, and change the interior of the house.
"The camera acts like a radiology machine: it's scanning
inside the home. We have two opposite sides of the home that I dedicated to
Father and Mother. Before the Revolution, the camera movement is from Father's
side to Mother's. It's Father's gaze. After the Revolution, it's from the
opposite side. First it's Father's turn and then Mother's turn, and it's very
symmetrical in the structure of the film.
"I put the Revolution in the exact
middle of the timeline: it's the main turning point, the point of no return, and
there are symmetrical things on both sides, between the first half and the
second half. It was a very crafted film. Everything is calculated on paper, so
in a way, the narrative is engineered."
Cohn next asked the director how old she was when she
understood this division. She was very close to her father and perhaps it was
already clear back then that she would pick his secular path.
replied: "I was seven when the Revolution happened, and I
wanted to stay that age in the film. I wanted to not grow up and to stay in the
better times of before the Revolution, where all my sweet childhood memories
are. So this was something that I wanted to be unrealistic in the film: to have
this fantasy that Firouzeh remains the same age the whole time.
"It was clear I was very close to my father's
values, and my mother didn't impose her religious concern on me. She didn't
force me to wear the hijab. She didn't want to instill her beliefs in her
Cohn found this interesting and a little surprising. She
followed by asking Firouzeh about her work on the fictionalized
dialogues between her parents.
"I considered many different options for the voiceover in the film," she
recalled. "It thought it would have been simpler if it was based on the
voiceover of a narrator. But I was the narrator, and I was born in the middle of
the film, so it would have been difficult.
"I wanted to have real time and not flashbacks, so the idea of fictionalized
dialogues came to my mind. I tried to write the dialogues, to put words in the
mouths of my parents. It was a very difficult, very interesting, and very
"Some things were based on my memories. Some other
situations I invented based on found footage that I had from that time—Super 8
footage from Switzerland or Iran. Sometimes I was writing the dialogues and
looking for images, pictures, or archive footage, and sometimes it was
vice-versa, I'd find good images and try to write dialogues for them. It was two
years of preparations for the film, writing the dialogues and creating the
Super 8 has the texture of memories
Cohn asked about finding the archive footage: where did this
journey take Khosrovani?
"I had enormous amounts of good material and it was very difficult to
select," she replied. "It was a kind of an elimination process. I always had to
put aside many good things to minimalize the film, to not have a very talkative
film—I wanted the images to talk.
"It was a very long search for official and unofficial footage, both from
Swiss and Iranian televisions; some are home videos on Super 8 that I got from
my family and friends. Also for the revolution, the
demonstrations, I was trying to find something not seen, not really used on
television. I was looking for personal footage of the people at the time during
1970s and 1980s, and it was all on Super 8. Super 8 has the texture of
"I loved working with Super 8 images—it was really
inspiring to me. Also all the out-of-focus, not very good and clean images. It's
really the texture of your memories. It put me in a good space in my head for my
Cohn continued from there: "If you were so inspired by the
way this footage could set your imagination free, do you think you will pursue
it in the future as well?"
replied: "I really wanted to have this combination of reality and fantasy in
this film, and not to be worrying about the genre, about fiction and
non-fiction. I think I will follow this way of storytelling in my next films,
Inshallah," she chuckled.
"I really enjoyed the work of writing the dialogues. This
kind of creates a new reality that is the reality of the film, because there are
some things I manipulated in the second half: the absence of Father is more
obvious. And at the end of the film, we are suddenly in real time. After this
playing with time, with fantasy and with imagination, I think that I can't go
back to classic documentaries anymore."
Radiograph of a Family
82 min - color - DCP - Spoken languages: Farsi, French - Subtitles in:
Production: Fabien Olivier Greenberg for Antipode
Films, Bård Kjøge Rønning for Antipode Films
Rainy Pictures , Dschoint Ventschr Filmproduktion, Storyline
Cinematography: Mohammad Reza
Editing: Farahnaz Sharifi, Jila Ipakchi, Rainer