by Afra Nariman
Director: Faran Moradi
Stars: Mo Zeighami, Sammy Azero, Navid Negahban, Farid Yazdani
I conducted the post-screening Q&A with director Faran Moradi @ NBFF ’22. For nearly an hour, we discussed his new film, the current situation in Iran, all things Iranian Cinema, and more, with an engaged audience who participated in an open discussion format for much of the Q&A time.
This is a pretty special film to me for a variety of reasons. First, when I originally came across it during the submissions screening process as a programmer, I was stoked to learn that there was an Iranian-Western diaspora story being told on film. This has essentially never been done — rarely, if ever, and with the authenticity, compassion and truth that Tehranto exhibits via story, representation and tradition. Not only does Tehranto simply not feature Iranians in negative or stereotypical roles; it tells an honest, loving story about Iranians, for Iranians — but in the form of a rom-com, a genre the average Western moviegoer will be familiar enough with to enjoy the film and it’s approach to comedy.
Although the film operates within the rom-com genre and features many of the successful tropes of the genre; it approaches its use of this mode of storytelling with a unique voice — one that amplifies the immigrant and diaspora experience, and that illustrates intersecting stories about the growth of two individuals whose paths cross, rather than making the whole film about how they get together at the end. There isn’t an emphasis on the plot of “guy gets girl, or girl gets guy.” Instead, it’s about how they help each other grow; and they do so independently.
The most significant element of the film’s twist on the rom-com, comes from its consistent social awareness of issues in Iran, the experience of the diaspora in the West and our perspective on what goes on in Iran — and the film’s historical contextualization of these concepts.
There is a particularly incredible scene partway through the film that features a conversation between two characters — Shirin and Badi’s mother — in which they discuss Badi’s mother’s experience as a woman and as a person of Bahá’í faith (another religion which was prominent in Iran prior to the Islamic Republic’s takeover of the country). In this scene, today’s issues are contextualized historically and Shirin’s diasporic, 2nd generation perspective of Iran is challenged, giving rise to the intricacies of how these issues are understood differently across generations. Ultimately, the importance of understanding history, and the various experiences of how the 1979 Islamic Revolution impacted people in Iran differently, is what is communicated here, which allows Shirin to grow her own perspective throughout the rest of the film.
Of course, one of the key aspects of how the film is able to create social awareness, and represent the differing perspectives of Iranians, comes in how the characters are written. Shirin (or Sharon) was born in Canada, not Iran — and thus, her perspective on her culture and the way she experiences it is fundamentally different than Badi’s, who was born in Iran and spent much of his childhood there before moving to Canada with his family. This juxtaposition can be observed in any culture. Those who are Iranian experience their culture differently than those who are from Iran (and them, differently than those who are in Iran) — and so, their perspectives will be different; but as Badi asks at one point in the film:
“Aren’t we all Iranians?”
The current 2022 revolution happening in Iran right now is not the first time that protests have broken out since 1979, when the Islamic Republic took control of the country, making it a theocracy. Over the last 43 years, countless protests have broken out against the injustice and inhumanity of the regime — but this one feels different. So many of the prior protests were just that: protests, and they ended up losing momentum. One of the main contributing factors of why 2022 feels and is different, lies in the the reasons why there has not been a drop-off in momentum this time around. Instead, it has become a revolution — the biggest Iran has seen since 1979.
Firstly, people from all backgrounds, cultures, regions, walks-of-life, etc in Iran are united for the same cause: to overthrow the dictator. Secondly, we the diaspora, have not allowed their voices in Iran to fade-out or go un-amplified. We are making sure that they know that they have our 100% support, and right now that means to continue amplifying their voices — to make sure the world is watching, rather than ignoring them as has typically happened by Western leaders and media outlets during past protests (most recently in 2017-18, and before that during the 2009 Green Movement protests).
During the post-screening Q&A, a member of the audience asked writer/director Faran Moradi a fascinating question. As this film was obviously written and filmed prior to the start of the 2022 protests, he was asked that; knowing what has happened since he completed the film, what is the one thing he would change about the film. He responded that he would have liked to have a character who is currently in Iran as a part of the story, to offer a grounded perspective of the issues. Perhaps this character would be a cousin of Badi’s. The reasoning for this choice, is related to what I previously alluded to — the differing perspectives between Iranian diaspora and those living in Iran. Although Badi was born in Iran and spent his formative years living there, he had moved to Canada at a very young age, so his perspective — although different from Shirin’s — was also different from someone who is currently living the issues that Badi is so focused on solving.
In the film, Badi is an angry 20-something year old with revolution on his mind. Director Moradi made the observation that, although his heart is always in the right place — as are most of the diaspora — we and Badi, must always ground ourselves and understand that it’s not appropriate for us here, to tell the people in Iran — living the issues we only discuss, now living the revolution — what to do, or how to do it. It is our responsibility to follow their lead, amplify their voices, support their revolution in any way we can, and standby for further instructions. The continuous support of the diaspora is paramount to the success of a revolution. While Badi, or any of us in the West, can see what happens in Iran and be rightfully hurt and angry about it; we also have the luxury of, after reading about the upsetting news, being able to go grab a drink, or sit in a movie theater, or go out for dinner. Granted, for many of us, the situation in Iran never leaves our thoughts; and like Badi, so many other things begin to seem pointless (school, work, hangouts, etc); but still we are not constantly living the issues that we want changed. The people in Iran do not have that luxury or that freedom. They are risking their lives everyday to fight for that freedom, and countless lives are lost each day in pursuit of this revolution. Again, it is the diaspora’s responsibility to listen to their voices, amplify them, and support them in any way we can in this moment.
Another topic of conversation during the Q&A and open discussion, was Tehranto’s mode of storytelling within the context of traditional Iranian Cinema. Essentially all of us in the theater agreed that typically, Iranian films are serious in their tone and the stories that get told. Being that the Iranian New Wave directors (Kiarostami, Makhmalbaf, Panahi, Majidi, etc.) were heavily influenced by neorealism, and thus were focused on finding truth through cinema — it follows that the topics and themes, although often liberating by the end, were always serious. Similarly, the generation of filmmakers that followed — most notably Asghar Farhadi — although taking a step away from the neorealist roots of his predecessors, still operates within the framework of social realism, making his films serious, and often times sad. Each one of the filmmakers I just mentioned, are unquestionably masters of cinema, and are some of the greatest filmmakers of their generation. They are certainly amongst my absolute favorites.
Still, it is worth celebrating films like Tehranto (and another film from this year, Hit the Road), directed by new, fresh Iranian voices, and which embrace a new mode of storytelling which illustrate a different kind of truth. Iranians are not exceptionally serious people — Iranians enjoy joking around, having fun, and even being goofy. Everyone in the theater loved that Tehranto exhibited this side of being Iranian; and every joke in the movie — most of which reference Iranian customs or specific jokes — landed with the audience. With everything happening in Iran right now and all of the stress and emotional exhaustion that our community has been experiencing over the past month; the opportunity to laugh was much needed and appreciated. Comedy has its own value, and comedy can ultimately represent the notion of truth in its own unique and necessary way.
There’s so much more discussion that this film warrants, and much more was discussed in our post-screening conversation. I urge everyone to please do look out for this film, which could hit theaters as early as the end of the year.
You can watch a clip from my Q&A with the writer/director Faran Moradi, in which I ask him about his approach to using film as a space to create social awareness. He gives a very thoughtful and complete response, here.
(I apologize in advance for the poor video quality, but the sound is great).
Thanks for reading.
Zan • Zendegi • Azadi ~ (Jin•Jiyan•Azadi)
MY RATING /5:
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