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Interview with Iranian film actor and editor Babak Karimi on the film 'Nader and Simin: A Separation'

04/23/11 Source: Khabar Online

Kiarostami, Farhadi reach the same goal through different paths

Babak Karim
Photo by Sean Gallup - 2011 Getty Images - Image courtesy

Born in 1960, it's more than 40 years that Babak Karimi has settled in Italy. He is the son of Nosrat Karimi an Iranian actor, director and playwright.

Babak Karimi attended Istituto Rossellini High School in Rome and studied to be a film camera operator and later took a masters course in photography at C.I.A.C. (Centro Italiano Addestramento Cinematografico). He was offered a position to teach editing at the International Academy of Visual Arts and Sciences in L'aquila.

In 2004, he cooperated in producing the three episodes feature film 'Tickets'

directed by Ermanno Olmi, Abbas Kiarostami and Ken Loach, working above all on Kiarostami's episode in which as well as being a co-producer, he worked as assistant director, second cameraman, actor and editor.

From 2004 to 2007 he has been a consultant for the Venice Film Festival particularly in selecting Iranian films for the festival.

His performance in 'Tickets' provided the ground for playing the role of examining magistrate in 'Nader and Simin: A Separation' directed by the celebrated Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi. Through that Karimi became more acquainted with the mainstream Iranian cinema.

The new film of Farhadi is centered on the story of Simin, a middle class Iranian woman who wants to leave the country, taking her husband Nader and their young daughter in the hope of a better life. Nader refuses to leave simply because wants to care for his old father who is suffering from Alzheimer, as a result a dispute ensues which ends up in a family court.

'Nader and Simin' lighted up the competition section of the last Berlin Film Festival. The film was praised both by the viewers and critics at Berlinale and won the coveted Golden Bear of the festival as the best film. The ensemble cast of 'Nader and Simin' also took both the best actor and best actress Silver Bears.

Farhadi had earlier garnered the Silver Bear of the best director in 2009 for his 'About Elly'. Moreover, at the 29thFajr Film Festival 'Nader and Simin' won the best director, screenplay and photography awards.

Speaking to Khabar Online, Karimi expressed his views on 'Nader and Simin': A Separation' and the current situation of Iranian cinema.

Nader and Simin: A Separation


A notable point of 'Nader and Simin': A Separation' is your fascinating performance in the film. After watching the film one of my friends opined about your acting that the character of examining magistrate in the film is either a real examining magistrate who acts so relax in front of the camera or is an actor who performs fantastically. How did Mr. Farhadi select you for the role and what was your own view about that?

Earlier Mr. Farhadi had seen 'Tickets' directed by Abbas Kiarostami in cooperation with two other prominent directors where I had played a role.

He had seen the film almost one and a half year before sending a message expressing his interest in working with me. I had previously seen his films and in my turn it was a pleasure to receive such proposal from him.

What was your view about the films of Farhadi and how did you find him after your meeting?

I like his films very much, since at the time when Iranian filmmakers had recourse to films about villages or to very personal movies, Farhadi was skillfully making narratives on middle-class Iranian people. He was viewing upon the milieu which has surrounded him, he was neither observing so remote places nor was extremely introspective. Regardless of the direction, camera work, editing and other executive aspects of Farhadi's work, his view was so fascinating for me.

Some say that Farhadi's films represent a dark image of Iranian urban society, as a person who has spent so many years outside the country, do you believe the image he shows is darker than what really is?

The question must be raised in another way. Is the represented image accurate or not? Is it congruent with reality or not? Although it could possibly be a nice image if we show people belonging to a class of society who laugh from dusk till down, would it be based on reality or not? So the real dark side of a society is not created by the filmmaker, he/she simply represents that. We should observe what the real dark aspect of a society are. The significant point is whether the image is represented honestly or it is forged.

And do you believe what is seen in the films of Farhadi is based on realism?

Yes it is, absolutely.

You knew Farhadi's films but didn't know him personally. What was your impression after meeting him?

Before I met Farhadi, we had just made two phone calls and had exchanged some e-mails. We met without any preconception about each other and talked straightforwardly.

Did you read the screenplay or he explained about the role you were supposed to play?

I read the screenplay.

Were you thinking about playing the role of the other characters or from the beginning you knew that you are to play the role of the examining magistrate?

At the first stages of writing the screenplay there was a possibility that I play the role of Nader and at the same time my father (Nosrat Karimi) was supposed to act as the father of Nader. But my father was not permitted [by the Deputy of Cinematic Affairs of Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance] to play the role of father. From that time the arrangements were changed and earlier I knew if I could not play the role of Nader, I would appear as the examining magistrate.

What method Farhadi adopted for directing the film. Regarding your experience in documentary filmmaking did you trace the resemblance between his method and making a documentary film?

When we are to make a documentary film, we begin to explore a subject matter. The director tends to self-effacement and moves to a margin to highlight the subject. But in a narrative movie everything has been preconceived and determined. However we tried to make it look like a documentary film. In our rehearsals we tried to pay attention to the details and make the work more close to the documentary. For the same reason handheld camera was used and the method of editing was fragmentary. Even during the discussions made between Mr. Farhadi and Mr. Kalari it was supposed to make the footages look like being shot by a cell phone camera.

As actor you have cooperated with Kiarostami and Farhadi among the Iranian filmmakers, what is the difference between these two directors?

They have two extremely different methods of directing. Farhadi works with professional actors and during the rehearsals moulds and forms the characters like a piece of paste. Kiarostami spends the same amount of time Farhadi devotes to rehearsal on searching to find a person who is close to the character he has in mind. Then gradually he becomes associated with him, learns new points about him which are matched with his script. In the meantime he becomes so much familiar as just by uttering a sentence, he will be able to guide the actor in a film. Both of them explore the same goal which is capturing a real humane sense and feeling but in order to reach it, they take different paths.

What did you feel when you received the awards of Berlin Film Festival?

We had a very strange feeling. 'Nader and Simin' was screened midway through the festival. After that we witnessed the peculiar and enthusiastic response of the viewers, all the audience young and old from different nationalities were strangely impressed by the movie. At that time we felt that with such reception we won't return home with empty hands. The night before the closing ceremony of the festival our phones were ringing and we informed that all the actors of 'Nader and Simin' must attend the closing ceremony. From that we realized that they are going to award the ensemble cast.

However we thought they are to grant us an award for the best artistic cooperation [the Award for an Outstanding Artistic Achievement]. This goes to someone who has played a significant role in the process of making a film. On the day before the closing ceremony we had become strangely excited, but the ceremony itself was so magnificent and we supposed that after receiving the ensemble cast, the best actor and best actress Silver Bears our film will not win any other award. Then the best director award was granted. We were thinking to ourselves that 'The Turin Horse' [by Hungarian filmmaker Bela Tarr] will garner the best film award but it received the Silver Bear, the Jury Grand Prix and the Golden Bear for the Best Film had still remained on the table. Finally 'Nader and Simin: A Separation' was introduced as the best film of the festival. At that time something sparked in our minds and we didn't realize what happened. Only later you realize what has really happened.



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