Parviz Sayyad’s 1983 film, “The Mission”

I had the good fortune of interviewing Iranian director and actor Parviz Sayyad in Berkeley a while ago. As I sat down to prepare the long overdue photo essay of our talk this weekend, I realized that there is so much that needs to be said and shared about Parviz Sayyad’s work that couldn’t possibly fit on top of 30 photographs. To try and summarize his lifelong accomplishments would simply not do justice to the man. In that vein, I will write a couple of blogs to highlight what I think is important to show you about Parviz Sayyad’s many contributions to us.

The first thing I want to share with you is actually the reason he was up here in the San Francisco Bay Area. He had come for a special screening of his 1983 film, “The Mission,” at UC Berkeley. There is so much that can be said about this film. Sayyad and his friends Mary Apik, Houshang Tozie, and Kamran Nozad made this film in New York City on a shoestring budget and created a masterpiece that looked into the souls of Iranians in diaspora and those who came to power in the post-revolutionary Iran. The sequence I want to share with you is one that in my opinion shows Sayyad’s strength as a writer that understood his country so well and feared so much for its future, almost prophetic in realizing why some Iranians would not be returning to Iran for decades to come and beyond.

These two clips show that sequence. I also typed in the dialogue transcript below. I’ll come back again soon.


Maliheh: Don’t you like music?
Davood Moslemi: To tell you the truth, no.
Maliheh: Which of the arts do you prefer? Poetry? Dance? Cinema? Theater? Architecture? Drawing?
Davood Moslemi: None.
Maliheh: Are you serious?
Davood Moslemi: In my opinion, with so much widespread hunger and poverty in the world, indulging in such things is a sin.
Just one question will be sufficient for me. Let us presume, just presume, that hunger and poverty have been erased from the face of the earth and mankind lives together in peace and harmony. Well, in that case, in accordance with your beliefs, would music, dance, theater, or art in general, be considered a sin? Or not? I emphasize dancing, or what I was doing now, playing the piano. Is it in itself without further implications, a sin or not?
Davood Moslemi:
It is a sin.
Maliheh: Well, Goodbye then.
Colonel: You hurt her very much, my friend.
Davood Moslemi: I just expressed my opinion.
Colonel: If I were to give my real opinion, you would be more hurt than she was. Don’t you think we have anything else to do besides hurting each other? What you did was not just a response to her playing with such feeling. What you did tonight was to annul the sum total of this girl’s life. Six years in music school and four years in the conservatory, and now her MA courses. That is twelve years out of a life of 22, for something that is now considered a sin. It is not right. It is not right.
Colonel: Is this the way you entertain your guests? You left us all alone.
Maliheh: I wanted to do the dishes.
Colonel: We will do them together.
Maliheh: No, I will do it alone. You go to the other room.
Don’t we always wash them together? Come on now.
Maliheh: We can’t leave the gentleman all alone.
Colonel: You made an excellent meal, Maliheh. I enjoyed it a lot.
Davood Moslemi: Yes, it was delicious.
Maliheh: Thank you for trying to make things up for me. It was unnecessary. They say you must get used to it. But I won’t.
The dried mint leaves you sprinkled on the eggplant, were they sent from Iran by your mother, or did you dry them yourself?
It doesn’t make any difference. Dried mint leaves are dried mint leaves.
That’s what you think! Iran’s dried mint leaves have the best taste in the world.
Maliheh: You mean it used to.
Colonel: Oh, you little devil! Davood
Miss, should I throw away these vegetables?
Maliheh: Mr. Moslemi, thank you very much for helping me. But I would appreciate it even more if you went into the other room.
Davood Moslemi: I’d better leave. This is a much better way of getting rid of me.
Never, I will never give you such permission. You must stay here, because I have some things to tell you.
Colonel: Not again. No more debates, please. No debates.
I just want to talk. Don’t we talk all the time, Colonel?
Colonel: Yes, but…
Maliheh: Why can’t we talk tonight, then? Please step into the other room. I’ll be there in a minute.
Why do you hurt this young man’s feelings? He just wants to help you. Come on Davood, put these vegetables in this bag, so we can store them. Then, just throw the food on these plates into the garbage. And when you’re finished, come into the other room. Maliheh Jan will make us some first class Darjeeling tea.
Davood Moslemi: I didn’t mean to hurt you.
Maliheh: Of course. The Government you set up, had no intention to kill youths. But they do it. For possession of a book, or selling a paper.
Colonel: I will get ulcers from this baseball. They call this sport?! I miss our football. They call it soccer here.
Davood Moslemi: Colonel, it’s better that I go now.
What has happened again? Mali? Mr. Moslemi is leaving.
Maliheh: Why? I am making tea.
Colonel: Let me make the tea. You come into this room.
Are you offended so easily?
Davood Moslemi: What is the use of me hurting you and you hurting me?
Maliheh: O.K. If it helps, let’s not speak at all.
Davood Moslemi: I have no fear of speaking, but I won’t let anyone insult our Republic.
Maliheh: What do you mean you won’t let it? You mean you will strike me?
Davood Moslemi: I don’t know. But I will somehow react about my beliefs.
Maliheh: You mean you might even kill someone?
Davood Moslemi: Maybe. Don’t be misunderstood. Killing someone for my beliefs is one side of the coin; on the other, I might die for my ideology.
Maliheh: Anyway, if you kill or are killed for your ideals, you will still be led to the stairway of Heaven. Isn’t that so? So it will be both heads and tails in the long run.
Davood Moslemi: Why are you saying these things?
Maliheh: Because, God forbid, if you kill or are killed, you won’t feel like a hero!
Davood Moslemi: Who does these things to become a hero?
Maliheh: I know it’s not because of heroics; it is because of the good that will be bestowed upon you. Whatever you do is because of righteousness. So, they will deposit the interest in your account in the next world. Anyone who puts his money in the bank in order to gain interest, shouldn’t say he is doing it out of goodwill and make a show of it. And, a man like you who does everything for righteousness in the next world, has no right to boast about helping the poor and barefooted.
Davood Moslemi:
I don’t understand what you are saying.
Maliheh: I will make you understand. And I’m not afraid of your threats, either. Since the Colonel liked you so much, I didn’t want to take issue with you. But because you said you were ready to kill or be killed, I don’t want to lose this golden opportunity. I will say whatever I want. If you want to hit me, hit me. If you want to kill me, go ahead.
Who wants to kill whom? I haven’t even gotten my Green Card yet! If you have plots for killing someone, don’t count on me!
Davood Moslemi: This lady seems to be filled with grudges just because I expressed my opinion about playing the piano. She wants to get even.
Maliheh: What you told me about the arts said all I wanted to know about you. That is all.
Davood Moslemi: Well, now that you know me, what do you think about me? An enemy?
Maliheh: Do you want to know the truth? I think of you as a criminal.
Colonel: Mali, come on, you’re going too far.
Maliheh: Really? Is it worse than the bullets they are firing into the hearts of my compatriots? For the sake of their rule here on earth, and for their savings accounts in the other world?
Colonel: Your brother has gone there to help them.
Maliheh: Not them, don’t be mistaken! He hasn’t gone to help these people. He has gone there to prevent them from destroying what has remained there. That is, if anything has remained. That is if they haven’t already killed him. How many good deeds have you carried out so far, Mister? How many people have you stoned? How many have you flogged or killed?
Davood Moslemi: What right have you to ask these questions? You have no problems. You dance, you have your boyfriends and your drugs. You have the movies, the theater, the discos.
Yes, that is true. They are all available here. And I have the right to avail myself of them or not do so. But this is not my homeland. I wanted to have these rights in my own country, Mister.
Davood Moslemi:
That country is not yours anymore.
Maliheh: And why is that?! Why do you think the country is a part of your personal inheritance?
Davood Moslemi: Those compatriots you are talking about all voted and said that you have no place in that country.
Maliheh: That is a lie! You take advantage of the religious beliefs of those innocent people for your political use. Everywhere around the world politics has been bribed by religion, and religion bribed by politics. But nowhere in the world have such atrocities been committed in the name of religion and God.
Colonel: Maliheh, come on! You invited a guest!
Maliheh: If you see that your guest is an executioner, a murderer, wouldn’t you throw him out? I would. Now he says the country has no place for us. Of course it hasn’t. Of course!
Maliheh: Listen, Mister! Where the execution of young children, sick old men, and pregnant women is not considered a sin, but playing the piano is, that’s no place for me. Good riddance to you.

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