Filmmaker Jafar Panahi has been banned by the Iranian government from making movies, for an unbelievably long while. Yet he continues undeterred in churning out one masterpiece after another. All shot in different locations, each time featuring a new cast of characters, Panahi’s films have continued undisturbed to be staples at international film festivals.
Those of us who know and love his distinct brand of filmmaking, where within his kind and well thought out delivery he still manages to packs a big punch, also follow him on social media. His Instagram alone is a pleasure for those who wish to witness a bit of his genius on a nearly daily basis. And in fact, it was his presence on social media that inspired his latest work — ‘3 Faces’. The film premiered in Cannes earlier this year and will be featured at the 1st Iranian Film Festival New York at the IFC Center in early January 2019.
Panahi’s interaction with his fans who send him messages constantly and try to connect with the artist inspired ‘3 Faces’ which also deals with a woman, a young girl who wishes to be an actress, reaching out in desperation to both Panahi and actress Behnaz Jafari. But is she going to commit suicide, has she already done so and will the film turn out as the newspaper headline that inspired Panahi at first, or will it all be a great opportunity to show the audience the ancestral villages of the filmmaker, as well as his vision for Iranian society today? In his press kit, the filmmaker hints at an “image of this narrow and winding road, which is a concrete metaphor of all the limitations that prevent people from living and evolving.” The road Panahi and Jafari travel in the film, the path of most Iranians living in Iran today.
I was fortunate to find myself face to faces with the two actresses of ‘3 Faces’ as well as the editor on the film — Behnaz Jafari, Marziyeh Rezaei and Mastaneh Mohajer during the 2018 Cannes Film Festival. Following is our insightful chat. But be sure to catch ‘3 Faces’ next week in NYC, at the 1st Iranian Film Festival of New York, held at the fabulous IFC Center from January 10th to the 15th. For more info and tickets, visit their website.
How did you each become involved in this project?
Marziyeh Rezaei: It was during president Rouhani’s election, during the campaign there was a conference about women’s rights held by him and his campaign and I participated in it. I’m very interested in women’s rights. When it was done, I came out and suddenly saw Mr. Panahi who was going the other way. I went to tell him how happy I was to see him and he looked at me and told me “why don’t you come see me?” So we exchanged phone numbers and that’s how it started.
Behnaz Jafari: Of course, I’m a professional actress therefore I knew him, we’ve met a few times. Just that, nothing more. Our common friend Mastaneh Mohajer called me and said ‘whatever you are in the middle of, let it go because I have a great proposal for you — you’re going to feature in Mr. Panahi’s movie.” So I did that, I let go of everything and the day after the proposal we were in the car going for the village.
Mastaneh Mohajer: I’m a professional too, and therefore we knew each other for a long while. We are good friends and see each other on a regular basis. But when the proposal was there of course I was very happy to participate in this very interesting project.
Of course Mr. Panahi is well known for having been banned from making films in Iran and cannot come to the West to present them, and yet he continues to be quite prolific. How is that happening?
Mastaneh Mohajer: He always has two scripts, one is what kind of a film he’s going to make, and the other one is how he’s going to make this movie. So each time he has to come up with creative new ideas on how to make this movie, surprise everybody — when it’s done it’s too late. But during it, it can be a problem. Each of us, we have chosen to participate in the project, regardless of everything, because this is an artistic movie, because this is not a political movie rather a movie about social problems, and about women problems in our country. We are all very honored to participate in it, that’s how we worked. And he always finds solutions.
Because he is controversial in his own country, is it a problem for you as actresses to play in his films?
Behnaz Jafari: Personally, as an actress, I thought how can I deny myself such a great opportunity, such a great offer for my career. This is a filmmaker I approve of, I approve of his ideas and the way he works, so it was an absolute “Yes!” I didn’t think about the other things, the controversies. I didn’t want to think about it, I still don’t. We will see.
Have you heard any feedback from Iran?
Behnaz Jafari: On social media, we are having great reactions from Iranians — on Instagram, Facebook etc. Each photo we put there get ten thousands likes. Everybody is so happy about it. It’s some kind of honor for Iranian cinema, for the Iranian people considering the political situation outside Iran even — with the problems we are facing. So it’s an honor to have our names here, with pride and joy.
Mastaneh Mohajer: It’s not only about social media, the actual media in Iran they are all having a great reaction, they believe that being in Competition is already having won the prize.
The role of women is touched upon in the roles of the actresses in the film. And how actresses represent the female gender in the film, attacked for wanting to be actresses. Did Panahi chose the profession on purpose, to address how women are treated in Iran as a whole?
Marziyeh Rezaei: Well, I think it not only can be considered as the general condition of women, but people in Iran in general. I find, especially in my own role, part of Jafar Panahi’s situation too. Both Panahi and this aspiring actress are both in the same situation, they want to do their jobs and are forbidden to do that. Either by somebody here, or someone else there but it’s the same situation. I think he expressed his own situation and the limitations he’s been subjected to, by showing my situation as an aspiring actress that has to endure the limitations and what is forbidden her. But as my character has lots of hope in doing what she wants to do, and the ending of the film shows a kind of happy ending — she’s going to do what is meant to do.
So Jafar Panahi is showing his film in Cannes. Another happy ending!
The film was shot in the villages where Panahi’s parents and grandparents were born. Did this add something symbolic to the film, and something special for the cast?
Mastaneh Mohajer: He wanted to get out of the closed spaces because after these limitations were imposed on him, all he did was films inside his apartment, or a villa, or a car in the case of ‘Taxi’. He wanted to get out, that’s the scenario we were talking about — the second one. How to make it possible? So he chose the village that he knows, and people there know him, are proud of him and are protective towards him. So that makes it easier, they wouldn’t spy on him, or anything like that. So he went there — he went out, but once again, he went to space that he knew and it wasn’t a foreign land somehow. That made it easier to work, for everyone but especially for him.
The symbolic meaning might be another layer of the location. Because what counted for him wasn’t that he was born there, or his parents were from there, and not even about promoting the culture of the Azeri people. It was more a practical choice, the story could work there. And now what counts, what’s basic for him and he has to take care of that before anything else, is to find a location where he can work. And that was the location where there was no danger for him.
Marziyeh Rezaei: Maybe the symbolic layer concerns the dogmatism which is being shown in the movie. From the father, the brother, this dogmatism is kind of cultural, kind of ancestral. So the return to the village of his childhood, this return to his childhood can symbolically be interpreted as returning to re-view and have another prospective on this cultural significance of this dogmatism.
Behnaz Jafari: For me there is also a symbolic layer. We have to return to our traditions, to our historical traditions in order to be able to move on to the future. We can’t fight tradition — we need to go back to it, understand it, assimilate it and then get going forward. And that’s what Panahi wanted to do. Go back in order to be able to go to the future. And that’s why maybe after every interview the reporters have come to us and someone said “I had the same experience, I wanted to do this and my parents were against it.” From all over the world, Spanish, Italian, American… That’s the common human culture maybe.
Is this based on a true story?
Mastaneh Mohajer: There was a true story printed in the newspaper about a girl that actually committed suicide because her parents didn’t want her to become an actress. That was a true story, two lines of news printed in a local newspaper. Panahi read that, and was inspired by that and it took him three years to work on the script and feel that he was ready to make a film.