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Thursday, 30 October 2008

An Observation on Iranian film-maker, Samira Makmalbaf

October 31, 2008

by Suzan Abrams

Watching the young, award-winning Iranian film-maker, Samira Makmalbaf talk her way rather glibly and with rushing speech through an interview documentary series that depicted the making of At Five in the Afternoon, a poignant and visibly painful drama - the first cinematic drama filmed in Afghanistan after the Taliban Government had been soundly overthrown by the US military; one is compelled to think that Makamalbaf's earnestness may well possess you.

She is zealous in conversation, keen for her listening audience to understand the simplified meaning of otherwise, complicated social statements voiced in her films and sounding slightly impatient with the common questions often asked of Iranian career women and their repressed lot. As such, she produces highly-animated gestures ... this best expressed by lunging forward with neck straining out of her lithe body as she explains passionately why film-making is so exciting.

The discovery of hope at the end of dark dangerous themes excite her, she says, with a rare glint in her eye. |The director who has made brilliant films espcially the Kurdish speaking Blackboards, featuring its strangely complex theme of teachers wandering like nomads up mountains with long blackboards that shape their shadows with bat-like apparitions; never once smiled in the interview. Yet it is clear, that she desires to be liked and understood.

Samira Makalmabaf is the daughter (once child actress and now director) of internationally acclaimed film director in the Persian world, Mohsen Makhmalbaf.

Mohsen has been married for six years to the graceful, sophisticated and rather quieter version but none less the brilliant film-maker herself; Marziyeh Meshkini, famed for The Day I Became A Woman.

In her interview, Samira Makhmalbaf offers a highly astute observation of the Afghanistani women. She says that because of severe injustices where women have had to sacrifice their images after being suitably frightened with the chilling prospect that exposing their faces would conduct for a grave sin and readily take them to hell, they would just as well totally sacrifice their confidence in the aftermath, it seems.

She descibes how difficult it was to get actors and actresses from the above-mentioned ill-fated logic alone; even one day before the shooting for
At Five in the Afternoon began. None trusted the camera. Since women felt they had no images of themselves, they saw the camera as something alien...an enemy. Makhmalbaf laments on how she had offered cash even to the poorest of families but none would stare into the lens. They would prefer the safer option of starving to death rather than accepting currency for the cursed unknown.

How did she manage to get her actors and actresses after all? "I give them all of me, "she enthuses happily. "I give them my heart, my love...I give them all of me. I am patient. I understand."

This saintly revelation would however, clash severely with an unedited footage enthusiastically shot by Samira's 14-year old sister, Hana who shows Samira off in the worst possible light. She nags at the actors involved, shows them hurried impatience, shouts in a loud, stricken voice and suddenly appears as one of those voluble tactless personalities who may easily reprimand an actor, quite severely in public drawing a twinge of nervousness among the crew and the fear of humiliation with the actor concerned. The kind of teacher that every student dreads.

She is so totally involved with the screenplay, that no one would dare put a foot out of place. During the shooting of a particular scene, she laments with highly annoyed agitation at the crew, her hands wringing into the air and clasping down on her forehead with a familiar drama born out of despair.

She shouts as loud as she can in a supposed note of confidence to anyone who would listen, about her bunch of Afghanistani actors. "These people you know. You must address them directly, otherwise they won't bother to look at you." She is clearly scornful of her merry band.

Her make-up is thick and stunning in the searing heat. Plus, every exaggerated movement is helped by a buoyant energy.

I think now of how the inexperienced Afghanistani people taking part in the film, are talked off as if they are commodities. The way rich Indian families sometimes talk of their servants standing in the same room, but behaving as if they were not there.

I remember all at once what Samira Makhmalbaf preached in her studied careful interview about giving her actors her heart and her love. And how her voice had dropped to an alluring whisper meant to convey compassion, kindness and gentleness.

I smile thinking what bad p.r. an unedited footage can sometimes bring about.

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