Some weeks ago I had the pleasure to watch “Delighted” [in Parsi, German sub] and personally meet director Abdolreza Kahani.
He comes from Nishapur, Iran and lives now in Paris, France. This interview follows our meeting in Karlsruhe, Germany and integrates my personal view of the movie. It follows 10 main topics.
[below: original Parsi text]
- Screening. “Delighted” was screened in the Kinemathek Karlsruhe on the 27th of May. It was the first time that it appeared on the screens of a cinema theater, even though the movie belongs to 2 years ago. Was it the first time that you attempt to screen it and, if not, what happened before? How did you feel?
I have tried and failed many times to screen the movie. We had an ‘exceptional’ screening in Karlsruhe and several other cities in Germany, but these are different from a real screening. Of course, the movie is expected to be screened in Germany as well and the ‘exceptional’ shows are a start for the movie’s release. It is two years and a half that the movie “Delighted” is finished and the permission to project the movie has not been given anywhere. Before this, others of my movies have been banned from being presented at international festivals and events, and it seems that the Ministry of Culture specifically legislated this law for me, since only my movies are banned from foreign shows. I made 10 movies. The first 3 were allowed to be screened outside of Iran, moreover one of them could obtain the permission in Iran under censorship. Afterwards, since the moment that I presented my price of the Karlovy Festival (CZK) to the people of Iran for their fight for freedom, most of my movies could not receive any permission to be screened outside of Iran, while inside of Iran they were screened under strong censorship and only after lots of efforts to obtain permissions. After this, and without informing me, the government tried to stop my growth. I am not one of the favorite filmmakers of the government – I just make my own movies. My last movie to be showed in the international community is my third movie “Twenty”, and then my connection to the world of cinema was cut. This situation continued, I couldn’t get permissions to make movies inside of Iran and I decided to make them outside. Currently, the French distributor “Bluebird” has the rights to distribute my movies and they are releasing them internationally. The movie “Absolute Rest” has been screened in France and there are further plans. I can’t and do not have permissions to distribute them. I did it unofficially and hidden twice and I was penalized. My audience outside of Iran is wondering why these movies have not been screened so far and I am trying to compensate the past, while re-introducing myself to the world of cinema, hoping for the future and for my next movies. I will relief the past, I will fight and make my movies. Along this path I am grateful for the help of “Bluebird”.
- Cars. “Delighted” opens into a car, the entire movie follows 3 young women moving around the city (exclusively) by car and, again, the last sequence is symmetrically set in a car. Considering your movie and Iranian cinema in general, cars seem to play a very important role in the daily life of Iran, at the point that it is very usual to set sequences these or from the point of view of a car’s environment. Is it a conscious choice and, if so, is it for sake of realism? Second, a car can be considered as a claustrophobic, closed and limiting space, in a negative sense; watching your movie, on the contrary, cars seem to be a space for freedom, closed in the sense of “protected”, where the protagonists can finally talk and laugh aloud, listen to music, drink or smoke. Do you agree?
Car for Iranians is like home. They have relative freedom inside the car. That’s the reason why people of Iran love cars. In Iran, real life is formed inside cars, houses and closed environments. Rarely you see real life in the society. Most people are looking for places where nobody confines their freedom to let them do whatever they want. In Iran there is no Carnival or public celebrations. Most of the happiness is inside the houses.
- Phones. Not only cars, but also phones are equally omnipresent in “Delighted”: the 3 protagonists use them to communicate, to have fun, to register life through selfies and videos. To do something. Till which extend are they a tool to flee, to filter and to fake reality, in your opinion? Do phones have a peculiar meaning or addictive effect to the young Iranian generations?
All around the world, phones changed their old meaning. In Iran more. Since Iranians have less fun than other nations, they double the function of everything. Phones allow people to have fun and be happy. All life of people is inside the phone. All their private and public information. Phone is an attractive device that provides the opportunity to become directors and actors to the people who have no profession, and this is very good. Now people use phones to make movies, play, and thousands of other things, including business. Generally, it can be said that phones and Internet have changed the Iranian society, they did it very fast and they will continue changing it. Nobody can avoid people from using Internet. People see the true Iranian society in their phones and uncensored reality is what Iranian people are thirsty for. For people of Iranian, phones are the best place to find truth. Without phones they are not complete and they constantly search for reality inside phones. They can’t see reality from official media such as TV. Hence, phones are a part of their body and everyone is addicted to them.
- Flirts. Bahareh, Tina and Nazanin are living difficult situations and they are stuck in a status of dissatisfaction, sadness and especially boresome, since they don’t study nor need to work. Their life just consists of fun. But do they actually have fun? At which level does the fun stop? For instance, “Delighted” shows the 3 girls flirting with many guys, enjoying capturing their attention in a sort of game, jumping in between parties and villas. It all seems a way to spend the time that, otherwise, would be even more empty. We also get the idea that these flirts are superficial jokes, since the relations never get physical nor emotional. If you show only the first “steps” of these flirts, is it because of censorship or is it really so?
Bahareh, Tina and Nazanin live artificially. Artificial laughs, artificial happiness. They live in a society where they see people becoming rich suddenly and only in one night, they are not ready to work for a normal and defined salary. When the economic relations in the society are corrupted, these girls also have the right to find other ways to get rich. They are constantly acting and their reality is never showed. I even asked my actresses to seem fake in order that the reality of this kind of girls can be seen better in the movie, while being fake is in contrast with reality. Everything in the movie is artifact.
- Males. You chose to focus “Delighted” on the feminine universe. How would have been the movie with 3 male protagonists instead? Are differences between the two “universes”? Do you think that the fact that the choice of 3 women has increased the problems with censorship and permissions?
Working for women in Iranian cinema is harder because of censorship. They are not free to do anything. For sure, if the protagonists of my movie were boys, the Ministry of Culture would have behaved better with the movie, but my story is about girls. I’ve seen many girls in recent years who are beautiful, well dressed, with cars, etc. But when I ask them their profession, often they are unemployed. This was a problem for me and I wanted make a movie about it.
- Feelings. During the conference in Karlsruhe you said that, through your movies, you don’t want to teach, but rather express feelings, communicate sensations. Would it be correct to say that you have and emotional relation to cinema? How did you apply this philosophy to “Delighted” and to your movies in general?
I am not a philosopher and I do not claim to know more than the audience of my movies does. Among the audience, there are certainly people who are more educated than I am. Hence, I want neither to teach to people who know already more than me nor to give a moral message. This is not my task. In my opinion, a movie is feeling. I share my feelings with the audience and try not to judge the personality of my characters. When I make a movie or write a scenario, I feel like I am in the cinema theater looking at the screen exactly like spectators, next to them. I never look from the screen to the cinema theater. I believe that the greatness of a movie comes from the untold, I think the audience can understand the modest behavior of the director and they like it. The time of teaching through movies is over. We should make movies in another way, not like in the past decades. Now people have other expectations, they do not want advices, and I think they are right because they have more information than previous generations. I am next to the audience, not facing them, I have this important thought in my mind during the whole phase of writing and shooting and I try to respect it.
- Music. Following this idea of a “cinema of emotions”, music can play a very strong role. In “Delighted” it is particularly its strong, we listen to music very often and you mixed different styles, from traditional to contemporary and foreign music. I personally think it was a consistent part of the movie, especially in the car-environment, where it gets loud and very close to the protagonists’ emotions. What did you want to express through the soundtrack? Do you choose it personally?
In my movies, I do not use much music. My favorite melody is environmental sounds, and the environmental sounds of the girls of the movie “Delighted” are the songs they love. These songs are the choices of the characters of the movie. I tried to understand their world and reach their favorite music. I love the natural effect of life and sometimes I spend hours listening to them.
- Documentary. Even though your main purpose is not to teach, it must besaid that “Delighted” could be almost considered as a documentary, in the sense that it portraits a portion of Iranian contemporary life in a very realistic way. And especially in our historical and socio-political period, when Iran is at the center of attention. Do you agree with this perspective?
I agree. “Delighted” is a document of contemporary Iranian insubordinate girls and therefore it cannot be screened due to the perspective of censors. If I made a fake movie, I could have obtained permissions to screen it. Censors love lies and I love reality. This is why we always have troubles with each other and I decided not to do any activity related to cinema in my country until I can make uncensored movies. If I could have a critic about the movie “Delighted”, it is that I could have made the movie more real, but self-censorship avoided me and, now that the movie is banned, I blame myself for not showing the whole reality.
- Others. Compared to other Iranian movies well known all around the world, your movie “Delighted” shows Iranians in a different way, especially women: they are not particularly desperate, victim of the society or oppressed. They are strong and fragile, dynamic and lazy, struggling with life, seeking fun and trying to avoid pain. Like everybody. At the end of the movie, we wonder: which is the real Iran? If there is one…
As all around the world, we have different women from different social classes, I accept that cinema in Iran spent less time on those women and the main reason of this is censorship. These women have unrestricted behaviors and censorship applies to these kinds of women. Sad and exhausted is the stereotype of Iranian women that you can see in most movies, women who do anything special. All these women exist in Iran, but what you have seen as foreigner viewer are women who are more likely to be portrayed considering censorship. The women of “Delighted” have been seen less in other Iranian movies because of the fear of censorship in directors. I paid attention to this type of women and the final result was the ban of the movie all over the world, so of course they have the right to fear!
- Future. Last but not least, how are your plans for the future? How is your perspective, speaking of censorship, screenings and new projects?
I will work without censorship. Wherever in the world I am, I will make movies. Whether I have the possibility or not. If I cannot make a movie without censorship, then I will not even create a frame. That is the reason why now I am in France and I have many ideas for making movies. I would like to shoot a movie in Iran, but censorship and not obtaining permissions exhausted me. I never get really exhausted, but I am done with censorship. I was eliminated in the last 10 years, which lead me to hate shooting movies with censorship. Even though, I am still alive and full of energies. I like life and world and I find the people of the world interesting. I will make better movies without censorship in any part of the world, specifically in my own country, Iran. Now I am trying, with the help of my French distributor, to relief my recent years absence outside of Iran, which was because of censorship and not obtaining permissions. After re-introducing, I will screen my new movies. I have made already many movies, but I have more to do and I am always working.
This article is not only a standard article about a movie but, at the same time, an attempt to diffuse information about director Kahani and his movie(s) in our contemporary and complicated era. “Delighted” is a beautiful piece of art, a contemporary portrait, a realistic story that everybody should be free to watch.
[Contribution and Translation Parsi-English by Shahin Hasani]
Original پارسی Version: