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Iranian Cinema brain drain continues with Bahman Ghobadi at Toronto

by Alex Deleon for <filmfestivals.com> 

Bahman Ghobadi

   

Rhino Season publicity picture 

RHINO SEASON is Ghobadi's first film since he fled Iran 

 

(From left to right) Behrouz Vossough, Monica Bellucci, Bahman Ghobadi, Belcim Bilgin and Arash Labaf

 

 

The stars of Rhino Season (from left) Behrouz Vossoughi, Monica Bellucci, Bahman Ghobadi, Belcim Bilgin and Arash Labaf


IRANIAN CINEMA BRAIN DRAIN CONTINUES
With Bahman Ghobadi at Toronto
by Alex Deleon

 

As the repressive political atmosphere in Iran gets worse and worse more and more top cinema talent is finding it impossible to work there and fleeing  the Islamic Republic to seek sanctuary and freedom of expression in other countries.  Mohsen Makhmalbaf, the outstanding representative of the "Iranian New Wave" whose films have been recognized for twenty years on the international festival circuit left Iran in 2007 when Ahmedinejad became president, and top actress Golshifte Farahani was banned from returning to her homeland In January of this year after posing nude as a protest against Islamic restrictions on women's dress in the French magazine 'Madame Le Figaro'.

 

Kurdish Iranian director Bahman Ghobadi whose Kurdish language films won two top awards at San Sebastian in 2004 and 2006 (the latter banned in Iran) sealed his own fate with a film called "Nobody Knows About Persian Cats" which was shown at Cannes in 2009 and highly displeased the turbaned clerics back in Tehran. The topic was underground rock musicians in Iran trying to get passports to London so they could work freely.  After the film was shown at Cannes it was clear that if Ghobadi returned to Iran he would face jail and/or a permanent ban on further film making activity. 

Ghobadi finally settled in Turkey where greatly depressed he started shopping around for a new film topic.

The film he has finally finished with considerable Turkish assistance is another Kurdish theme and has the poetic title of "Season of the Rhinoceros" (Fasle Kargaran) officially now, "Rhino Season". The world premiere was held at the Toronto film festival in September. His new film didn't take any prizes at Toronto but generated intense press coverage marking one more notch on the Iranian filmmaker Brain Drain trail.   "Rhino Season" was shot mostly in Turkey, where Bohman has set up shop, and surprisingly stars the outstanding Italian actress Monica Bellucci (47) partnering exiled Persian film legend of yesteryear, Behruz Voshoughi, 74, in the leading roles.

Bellucci, Italy's biggest female star and glamorous sex symbol, had to learn Persian (Farsi) for the role but is an accomplished multiligual and says that was no problem. The main thing for her was the opportunity to work with a fantastic director like Ghobadi -- in a highly deglamourized role with the emphasis on acting!

Unlike long established Iranian filmmakers Kiarostami (72) and Makhmalbaf (55) Ghobadi at 43 is barely known outside of Iran but two of his films, "Turtles Can Fly" (2004)  and "Half Moon" (2006) won the top prize at the prestigious San Sebastian film festival in Spain. Ghobadi is an ethnic Kurd and both of these films were in his original Kurdish language --- already a problem as there is a militant Kurdish separatist movement in Iran. His followup to that was the hastily made underground study of Iranian underground musicians  "Nobody Knows About Persian Cats" (Kasi az Gorbehaye Irani Khabar Nadareh)  which was awarded a special jury prize at Cannes but was considered seditious by the Religious Police that run Iran, resulting in Ghobadi's defection and self imposed exile.

Highly depressed because he could not go home and bouncing around Europe in Persian exile circles, he finally realized that he simply had to make another film "to stay alive". The result is another Kurdish topic involving the unjust 30 year incarceration of a Kurdish poet and the ten year imprisonment of his wife (Bellucci) in Tehran in the wake of the Islamic takeover.  Believing her husband to be dead she has moved to Turkey with the very man who instigated their imprisonment. He was once her driver and long in love with her as well. When the Poet finally gets out twenty years later he goes to Istanbul to track her down ...  with mixed results and tragic flashbacks.

The poet is played by Behruz Vosoughi who was the most popular actor in Iran before the Revolution and has himself been absent from the screen for thirty years --an ironic parallel -- because he left Iran just before the Islamic takeover and took up residence in the US, hoping eventually to get into American films, but was only offered terrorist roles which he refused to accept. "This is the role I have been waiting for all these years", said Vosoughi.

"Rhino Season" was produced by well known Turkish actor Yildiz Erdoğan and his alluring actress wife Belçim Bilgin Erdoğan. Yildiz has the third major role as the insidious driver/lover who engineered their imprisonment at the time of the Islamic revolution and Bilgin has an important supporting role.  Bellucci's son in the film is played by pop singing international superstar Arash Labaf, who lives in Sweden but sings in Persian. Labaf who has a gigantic following in Eastern Europe and the Middle East had never been in a film before but is an old friend of director Ghobadi's.  When Ghobadi offered him the part he said he couldn't turn down a chance to have such a beautiful "mom" as Monica Bellucci!

All cast principles except Yildiz appeared in Toronto for the World Premier and again a week later when Rhino was screened at San Sebastian, the one place in Europe where Ghobadi is no stranger.  "Rhino Season" was awarded a best cinematography prize in San Sebastian and then moved on to the BUSAN Film Festival in South Korea on October 6.  There Ghobadi met with American director Martin Scorcese who announced plans to collaborate with the exiled Kurdish director on his next project, a film about Kurdish Iranian relations.

In his Toronto press conference Ghobadi stated that he is not a political filmmaker and does not really have any interest in politics per-se but, when you make any film about Iranian society these days it inevitably takes on a political character.  "Rhino Season" is in fact a film as poetic as it is political -- full of symbolic visuals relating to the poetry of the central protagonist which is a leit motif throughout.  The title itself comes from one of the poems of the imprisoned poet, recited during the film by Bellucci in Farsi. Reflecting the mood of the film a dead Rhinoceros on a dreamlike desert plain dominates the official film poster.
Ghorbadi also said that he hopes his work outside of Iran will inspire young people in Iran to demand more freedom. He is convinced that when the youth takes over there will be big changes.

Adopting a Dog in the Manger attitude on the heels of the recent flap over he controversial You-Tube trailer that allegedly insulted the Prophet Mohammad the Iranian Ministry of Culture announced last week that although a new Iranian film "Sugar Cube" had been earmarked for entry in the next Oscar derby, the film has been pulled as a protest against President Obama's failure to deal harshly with the Egyptian Coptic immigrant who allegedly made the anti-Mohammedan opus in question. Bahman remarked pointedly in one interview that the biggest enemy of the creative people in Iran is the ministry of culture. 

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