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“Thoughts on culture and Europe” series: Exclusive interview with Majid Majidi

Majid Majidi


What is the role of politics in your work? Is art an effective, or even subversive, form for addressing political questions?

I consider that subjects directly addressing politics tend to be covered in a journalistic form, eager for sensationalism and in any case with a short-term vision. I always tried to avoid them. This does not mean that I close my eyes on political realities in the world in a desire to be unaware of them. On the contrary, I am quite conscious of them but I rather try by my cinema to give them a human face.

Iranian films seem to have rediscovered a humanism that Western art has forgotten. Can the humanistic integrity of your work be attributed to the influence of religion?

Iran is an old country with a significant cultural history. Our literature is very rich with poets such as Hafiz, Saadi, Rumi. In their writings, these poets have always given a great importance to the human being. Contemporary cultural themes stem from this tradition as well as the rituals associated with them. The manner these themes are dealt with is influenced by the particular beliefs of the Iranians that existed and continue to exist nowadays. These days, the world, and in particular the Western world, is experiencing a period of disruption with the past. Human being and traditional moral values, dear to people, seem to have been lost in the process.

Contrary to Western perception of Islamic societies, the women in your films are very dynamic characters. Why are Muslim women portrayed as victims in Western films?

It seems that Western governments thrive in imposing the stereotype of a Moslem world that is backward and narrow minded. This is often justified by political considerations. We know that more than 65% of the world energetic resources are in grounds of Moslem countries. The industrialised countries, mostly Western, have always during modern history thrived to increase their control over these areas. Precisely, in this moment the United States attack on Iraq in order to control its politic and its oil, illustrates very well the persistence of these intentions of control usually disguised into ideals of freedom and democracy.

Fortunately few believe that is the case. It is clear that the Western governments, and particularly the United States, always tried to portray the Moslems by exploiting specific cases. For example, the Taliban and other extremist regimes whose creation and existence were encouraged by the U.S. were used to consolidate an image of Islam based on terror and intolerance, particularly toward women. For the Talibans, the women were nothing more than animals. Thus, the perception of the Western towards the Moslem women has been influenced by this representation. Islam practiced in the rest of the world is very different.  In my opinion, this does not reflect the reality of women and I think the true identity of the Moslem women remains to be discovered by the West.

Baran has refugees as its main characters. Do you think that migration is treated differently in Western and non-Western societies?

Without any doubt there exist differences between the two approaches on migration. The Western countries have a strict quota on accepting emigrants and a stricter quota for refugees. The fear of Western governments is that emigrants will exercise a strain on their economies; therefore they prefer those who conform to certain levels of education and self-sufficiency. The emigrants who are uneducated and are fleeing poverty are bluntly rejected, as we have seen recently in Australia. In the West, the economic and cultural criteria take precedence over humane considerations.

In Iran, the situation is completely different. War and famine forced the Afghan refugees to cross the border, to find food and shelter in Iran. They were dispossessed and mostly illiterate. None was rejected. Those with financial means and who were educated migrated to the Western countries. The official figures of the UNHCR indicate that the number of refugees registered in Iran reached 2 million, the highest density of refugees in the world. If illegal refugees are included, the figure must be around 4 million. Despite the economic crisis prevailing in Iran, they were provided with a secure shelter, food, schooling and a chance to survive. Zahra Bahrami, playing in Baran came to Iran with her family when she was 3 years old. Her father is an uneducated manual laborer. They lived in the refugee camp of Torbat e Jan where Zahra went to school, got an education similar to Iranian children and is soon ready to join the university. In this perspective, Iran made an exceptional humanistic gesture and is rewarded by this kind of results.

Why do you think that Iranian films have become so successful in the outside world?

In my opinion, if one pays attention to the human being and to human values whether they are related to Iranian culture or another, one ends up being unaware of borders. There certainly exist differences among peoples in the area of the economy or of technology, but human values remain universal, because human beings were created equal by God. Indeed, the feelings, emotions and aspirations such as love, friendship, heroism etc...are present in all human beings. The language of Art can facilitate bringing people together, can develop people’s conscience of a common humanity, despite differences in races, cultures, or nationality. I think that the Iranian cinema has almost recovered this language and the world of today, thirsty for love and friendship seems to understand it without difficulties.

How would you picture/write/direct something that you would call ‘European’?

I never considered making a film outside Iran and I really do not know how I would write it or directed it.

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