Filmmakers Without Borders
by Kaveh Daneshmand
The notion of national cinema, its meaning and definitions have been a matter of long historical debate for many decades. When considering the meaning behind Farsi cinema, it is first important to question the parameters that define an Iranian or Afghan film. If a filmmaker is pulled away from their roots to make a film in a foreign country, is the final product still considered Farsi cinema? If an Afghan filmmaker makes a film in France, are we still able to define it as an Afghan film at all?
With a significant and increasing number of filmmakers working outside their homelands today, as well as a huge diaspora of artists growing up and living far removed from their roots, FCC takes a brief look at three of the most important titles produced and directed by Iranian filmmakers outside Iran. These titles, their identity, and nationality provide us with good insight on what really makes them special in the context of the foreign countries they have been produced in, as well as their association with Iranian cinema.
The Past (Asghar Farhadi, 2013)
Without a doubt, Asghar Farhadi is the most important living filmmaker from Iran today. With hundreds of awards from across the globe for his outstanding works, he has also turned into one of the leading figures of world cinema.
After creating his internationally acclaimed film, A Separation (2011), Farhadi travelled to France to produce his first international co-production, The Past; a film with a long list of accomplished cast and crew from France, involving only a few creative forces from Iran.
The film, which follows the story of an Iranian man who travels to France in order to finalize his divorce from his French former wife became a largely controversial film as soon as it premiered at Cannes Film Festival. Many Iranian critics hailed the film as a solid example of an Iranian film with a French context, and at the same time, many international film experts noted Farhadi’s success in making a French film without losing his connection to his Iranian roots.
Like all of Farhadi’s Iranian works, the film is filled with Farhadi’s signature plot twists, script structure and directing style. Even though the film takes place in Paris, it explores themes that are very close to Farhadi as an artist, and are easily recognizable in his Iranian films. At the same time, a majority of the story depicts the ethical and emotional dynamics between its French characters, which Farhadi managed to capture flawlessly in a French context.
It is a film that exhibits a brilliant commitment of Farhadi to his own personal world of filmmaking without feeling alien, irrelevant or inaccurate to its European audience.
Cut (Amir Naderi, 2011)
For those who are familiar with Iranian cinema, Amir Naderi is one of the most prolific and groundbreaking filmmakers. His film, The Runner (1984), stole the hearts of thousands of film lovers around the world and remains one of the most important gems of world cinema. After Naderi’s immigration to the US at the peak of his career in Iran, he continued his filmmaking career in North America rigorously but has not travelled back to Iran ever since.
For many years, Naderi lived and worked in his second home until he decided to go beyond the borders of the US and direct the internationally-acclaimed gripping drama, Cut, in Japan; a land he was fascinated by for years. The film tells the story of a young and desperate Japanese filmmaker who turns into a human punch bag in order to pay a debt to a loan shark.
An intense and graphic ode to cinema, the film has no connections to Iran in terms of story. However, the bold style of storytelling and directing that have been iconic to Naderi’s earlier films such as The Runner (1984), are vividly present in Cut, albeit meticulously interwoven with Japanese culture.
It is not immediately possible to connect the dots and find the traces of Naderi’s associations with Iranian dialects of visual storytelling in Cut but those connections will not escape the avid eyes of cinephiles who are familiar with Iranian cinema and Naderi’s filmography specifically.
Certified Copy (Abbas Kiarostami, 2010)
Abbas Kiarostami changed the image of Iranian cinema forever with a body of works that has influenced generations of filmmakers around the world. For more than 40 years, he amazed, baffled and touched lovers of cinema with his viewpoint of life in the context of Iranian society.
Certified Copy is Kiarostami’s brilliant attempt to capture a peculiar love story in Italy with an almost entirely non-Iranian cast and crew. The film was a pleasant surprise for world cinema and demonstrated his sophisticated craftsmanship in creating a personal, honest and playful universe in a landscape far from his roots.
The film which contemplates the essence of love and the conflicting emotions connected to it, questions the originality of our feelings and attachments and stays entirely true to his vision and directing style ceaselessly.
These films highlighted today make up only three of a long list of great works of art created by Iranian artists in other countries. The relationship between an artist and their historical and geographical heritage is an indelible part of their creative journey in life; a tree needs its roots to stay alive. Making a profound and precious work of art in a foreign land can be an exciting odyssey only if the connections with one’s roots are filled with life. It is only then, that great artists can travel the world, observe and understand the other ways of life, and tell the stories of other lands and horizons in ways that will stay with us forever.