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Ebrahim Golestan's View on Farhadi's Nader and Simin, A Separation


Interview with Elaheh Khoshnam, Deutsche Welle
Translated By Roya Monajem, Tehran; Source: Tavoos Art Magazine

Farhadi's Nader and Simin, A Separation winning the Golden Globe Award was a pretext to interview Ebrahim Golestan, author and filmmaker. Golestan is mostly famous for his documentary and featured films.

Ebrahim Golestan

Wave, Coral and Granite, Secrets of the Treasury of Jinni Valley, A Fire (, Wooing and Hills of Marlik are among Golestan's famous films.

Deutsche Welle (DW): Mr. Golestan, Nader and Simin, A Separation is full of inquiries about our society. Why do you think it has appealed to foreign juries as well? Even Mr. Farhadi had said somewhere that he thought his film would attract the attention of Iranians more than foreigners.

Ebrahim Golestan (EG): The subject matter of film and cinema is not about the content or whether a foreigner would understand it or not. Anybody who makes a film or produces a painting or writes a story or composes a poem expresses his/her views in the first place. This has nothing to do with how much it will sell or how well it will be received. Farhadi's film is a very good film. It means nothing to me if such and such film and cinema organization in Tehran boycotts it or such and such film organization outside appreciates it. Such non-cinematographic questions do cross the mind of anybody who wishes to talk about a film or criticize it. One does not deal with such things. The question is Mr. Farhadi's film. It is not my business if somebody doesn't like it or likes it. I have often seen how ridiculous films have been greatly appreciated while nothing has been said about very good films.

DW: My question was not whether this film is good for sale or not. I say that the questions tackled there are about our country and they are the kind of questions that our people ask. How can they appeal as significant to foreign juries?

EG: Ask foreign juries. How should I know?

DW: The other point about this film is the suspicion and doubt seen both in the servant and Nader (Simin's husband). Do you think such suspicions are transmitted to viewers? When you watched the film did you experience them?

EG: If you ask me, I can only talk about myself. I don't have any means to discover other viewers' minds. Whatever I say will be false. I should only say what I think about it.

DW: Did it produce those suspicions and doubts in you?

EG: No, not at all. I faced this film knowing Farhadi's works very well. I came to know him with his Chaharshanbeh Suri and both these films were unique and wonderful to me. I watched Nader and Simin with the same mentality. Of course it was an excellent film.

DW: What did in particular appeal to you? What was the main striking point of this film in your view?

EG: The striking point about it is its production. All the good things said about a film, like it had a good photography, or good music or the camera was set here or there or it had a good montage, and so on and so forth can be the kind of things people of the whole world pay attention to, but I don't. The important thing for me is the sum total of all these things. On the whole this film was a first grade movie. It is fantastic, that's it! According to my taste there should be a certain amount of spontaneity and juxtapositions in any text, film and poetry. This film does possess this quality...

DW: What do you mean by juxtaposition?

EG: By that I mean when you are writing a poem or an article for example, all of sudden something crosses your mind without having thought about it before. Your mind is ready, but it wasn't part of your plan. It jumps out of your mind. This should happen in all artistic works. All the practices for creation, vocabulary, imagery should have taken place in the mind before. When you sit down to work, the mind should be left free to let whatever crosses it to pass through its filter and finds its way into the work. Farhadi's film is like that. Many films do not have this quality. In some, it is in the middle of the film that they think to imitate this or that other film or decide to say something else as well. But this film was well interwoven and consistent. All the subjects were well calculated and interconnected.

A scene from "Nader and Simin, a Separation"

DW: After seeing the film, did you too have this feeling that behind those closed doors, there is a society putting itself and its history on trial?

EG: This should be true about any poem, any works of art. I actually watched this film with such intention. Your question is posed from outside the field of work; I am watching it from inside.

DW: But the question comes right where you say, Mr. Golestan. This is what the film-script conveyed.

EG: I didn't object, did I? I say it should be this way, if not, it is no good. If not, it would be superficial, trivial. That's why I said it was well-fabricated; it emerges out of its society and not only the present Iranian society. No doubt we see the present Iranian society in the film, the society should be known. If this film doesn't wish or fails to show Iranian society in a way that an American would also see it in his/her society, then it lacks proper humanism. Humanism is present when it is felt if the film is watched in Iceland or in Kamchatka. Human beings should feel it, according to their own cultures. I should watch this film in this way and that's exactly how I watched it. Which part of the film conveys it, who was good looking, how was the make- up and things like that are not what I am concerned with. What I am concerned with is whether this film speaks of human being and humanity or not. Yes, it does.

DW: As it speaks of human being and humanity would you please tell us what was your interpretation of the three fathers seen in the film? One is suffering from Alzheimer and most probably he is trying to forget the past, one leaves the decision to his child without wanting to have any direct influence on her and the third who only thinks about cheating and money.

EG: This is what makes it to represent humanity. This is not only seen in Iranian society. I know cases of children cheating their fathers. I can talk about cases of fathers physically abusing their children by battering them...You name it. When you watch a film, you find it. You should find and see it yourself. I don't go to cinema, buy a ticket to see what I like to see, for example to somebody swearing at or praising another. I sit there to see what is the film doing? Does it see its environment and its world? The film in question is watching and narrating the various components of its world and it is doing it in the best way. It is not like going to a fortune teller or solving a cross-word puzzle, we watch to see what the filmmaker has done.

The same thing happens in his film Chaharshanbeh Suri. Chaharshanbeh Suri depicts a strange atmosphere. Any foreigner who watches this film does not get the point that we light a fire on the last Wednesday of the year and jump over it. Some say don't do it, it is fire-worship, let's mourn...All this goes back to one's mentality, how has one grown up and what one expects from life? Chaharshanbeh Suri looks at things in the same way.

The history of Iranian cinema is a poor unfortunate history, like its whole history, its men, its literature. Only a very few have composed good poetry in this history. Good poetry does not mean that its rhymes and rhythms are correct or it has been composed to my liking and taste. No, when you see caprice, thought, ignobility, nobility found in all human beings in a work, you would see that it is a good work. When you read Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky or Flaubert, you will see that they have looked in this way. But the poem by so and so with its hahaha, hehe, huhu will not help anybody.

DW: But the details can be investigated and analyzed.

EG: Everybody should do that. This is not my duty or your duty...

DW: I like to know about your view in regard to its details, because you are a professional in this field. That's why if you allow, I like to ask another question; in relation to the role of the mother in the film-script.

EG: I am not willing to share my analysis. Why should I do that? If anybody is curious to know what I think about Farhadi's film, I can simply say it was a first grade movie. But if I say this part of that person was like that or he/she thought in this way, it is like saying it would have been much better if he had put the camera here and had filmed from this angle. These are the details which is the right of the creator of the film, the story, the poem. If we analyze them, we can't do it in few words and we should not analyze. What I want to say is that this film was a very good film. And we don't have many good Iranian films. I haven't seen many of the recently made films. But among those I have seen, this is a very good one. For example, nobody says anything about Avanesian's Spring (cheshmeh). It is a fantastic film. Why doesn't anybody talk about it? They just spread lies about it; that for example, it is an American story adapted to go on in Rezaiyeh or Persian Gulf. But it is not true. They want to stick themselves to a world which does not belong to them; they have not delved into it. They just babble.

It is quite possible that from now on Mr. Farhadi would make bad films. I don't know... I hope not. There were people who made very good films, but later were deceived by such questions and film-critics. I know somebody whose first film was excellent, but he immediately fell into the trap of friends who were among cheap film-critics of their time and thus he kept on making films one after the other repeating the same things. And everybody kept saying very good! Now he has made about 60-70 films, but none are comparable to his first one.

This is not the right way to bring about the subject. Suppose you choose 20 best films of the history of cinema and send all of them to some Film Festival like Golden Globe or Oscar. Among them, one should be selected; does it mean the rest of them are not good? Of course not. For example, Joyce never won the Noble prize which everybody tries to win.

DW: Selection by the jury is based on some mental comparison. For that the jury analyzes the film to see where was a better or more suitable place for the camera, for lighting, for characterization and how it is carried out in the given film?

EG: If the jury proceeds in this way, then it is not a good jury. The jury should see how the content, the components are interwoven and how this synthesis is in favor of art and reason. There are many good figures who wrote first grade books and were fascists, were not good people and had a crooked way of thinking. Yet their novel was very well made. The art history of the world is full of such examples. If they want to measure where the camera was put, it is like saying it was better if he had worn this or that shoes while taking the film.

DW: I didn't mean that. The main question is whether the components are well-interwoven or not. What does it want to say? Even if it wishes to revile, has it done it well, has it done it carefully, fluently?

EG: I don't agree with the methods you suggest for judgment at all. I give you an example from the world of cinema. It is about 20 or 30 years that when you ask film critics of the world what is the best film, they answer, Orson Wells' Citizen Kane. But this film never won any awards, and not only that but they made as much criticism as possible about it and tried to ruin it. But the film survived and now everybody thinks differently about it. What was to be seen is seen and they have put behind their defective stupid habits. Now they are looking and saying: Citizen Kane.

DW: Do you mean that film-critics are useless? There are no film-critics and films are either good or bad? Is this what you mean?

EG: There are very few critics who take the hand of art and help it. If they can't make a good film, if they can't write a good poem or story, then when they are watching a good film or reading a good poem or story, they would say: I wish I had made or written it.

DW: But Mr. Golestan, film-critics do not limit themselves to whether a film is good or not. They go into details.

EG: Of course they should not limit themselves to that. But the question is whether we are now criticizing this film or like to talk about it. This is very different.

DW: We are talking about this film. Film-critics are not to either criticize or appreciate a film. They talk about details. We are talking about its details too.

EG: You are talking about its details, but I am saying that it should be looked upon in general.

DW: Some believe that Iranians are after film-festivals and make movies according to their taste in order to attract the jury. What is your opinion in regard to this long debate?

EG: It is nonsense. Those who cannot make a good film, those who are left behind justify themselves in this way. I read an article today that Mr. so and so in Tehran who is a member of an organization which is against Farhadi has said: Yes, it was us who helped him, while in reality they damaged the film. Now that they see they can't do anything and it has won an award, they say we helped.

The same thing has repeatedly been done in respect to me. Years ago, when a number of best film-directors of the world were in Tehran, they asked the authorities to see Golestan's films. The Ministry of Art and Culture had said: Golestan?! Who is Golestan? We don't know him. There is no such a person!

It is always like that. When somebody is working well and making progress, others may help him/her to spread his/her wings further or may grab his/her ankle and not allow him/her to run. Some don't want to run and say: Aha... This film was specially produced for film-festivals. Is the jury stupid to present an award to a bad film?

This is totally nonsense pointing to fanaticism and narrow-mindedness. Those who say such things, talk nonsense. There is no logic in saying that a film has specially been produced for film-festivals! Why should one spend so much money to produce a film merely for festivals? To win an award? What is the point?

Director Ashgar Farhadi on the set of "A Separation"

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