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Sehaty Foreign Exchange


    Septembert 1, 1999

Like father like daughter

Personally, I would like to thank you for writing this article ["A bitter bite"]. I must admit that not unlike some friends you have mentioned, I have also become somewhat accustomed to, or numbed by, these breaches of ethical boundaries in Iranian cinema. But your article did remind me of the strong pangs of unease I felt during Salaam Cinema. This is a tall tale, and I find that ethical concerns are usually the most troublesome to convey. At some cost, I will make my comments more general and less carefully composed so as to make them brief.

The technique of blurring the line between fiction and documentary which, if I am correct, Kiarostami first used in his films, and was then taken on by Mohsen Makhmalbaaf to newer, more creative heights, has managed to blur another parallel line - between what is ethical and un-ethical. Chances are this occurs when it is hidden from both the audience AND the cast (and possibly the rest of the crew) which parts of the actual shooting is going to go into the final film; sometimes the "actors" may not even know when they are being filmed. In doing so, the director takes control of this "line", by thinking of one thing and in some cases one thing only, "will this be good on film?" And until the moment that the film is completely edited, these ethical judgments are almost entirely in the hands of the director. Except that he or, she in this case, is mistaken in thinking that they stay in the hands of the director. Because inevitably there are signs, like the ones you pointed out in your article, which give them away, causing the line to show through; and with it, the director's ethics...

Kiarostami has less of a problem on this issue. He generally manages to treat his subjects with respect and compassion. One gets the sense that his actors are being coached rather than "used". But let's take Mohsen Makhmalbaf's Salaam Cinema or Noon-o-Goldoon as examples. In these films some people, whom we may or may not call actors, have been literally made fools of. Some may say: "...but don't you see, we are all fools!?" or, "...they have only made fools of themselves." But in fact, the director is the choreographer of most scenes, and HE chooses the moments to shoot, or which shots to include to reach the desired end. And as much as these films seem to bring the message of gentleness to their audience, directorial privileges are used quite aggressively in them!

It is true that in Salaam Cinema, there were people put in front of the camera who would go to any length to be there, and may not have minded being put in a powerless position in spite of, and perhaps because, millions would be watching. In their case, compassion may seem wasted. But what about those...or even what about that ONE person who had believed the false advertising for an audition, thinking that it is only an audition, and nothing more. What if one person refused to be used as a subject for a mockumentary while being put on the spot. Well, we saw that even that footage was not spared! And moreover, at least on one other occasion the director's response was along the lines of: "You wanted to be an actor, didn't you? Well, [surprise!] we are making a film here, and, [surprise again!] you are the actor!" As I said, this tale, is a tall one.

Mohsen Makhmalbaaf has evolved in many ways during the years. But ethical evolution takes much more time than the ideological one. In Samira Makhmalbaf's Apple I sensed the strong presence of her father throughout the film. This influence can of course be both positive and negative in the work of the daughter. She is all too young for it to be otherwise. But it would seem that it takes if not a complete, but at least a serious break from the ways of the previous generation, to set one on an independent path of growth and discovery, and perhaps, more evolution.

Mandana Kamangar

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