The life and work of Mohsen Makhmalbaf would make great material for a novel. Makhmalbaf, one of the three top directors of the Iranian cinema (the other two being Abbass Kiarostami and Jafar Panahi) was born in 1957 in one of the poorer districts of Tehran in South Tehran. He grew up running from one petty job to another to support his mother while, already wanting to put an end to injustice, as a teenager, creating his own militia. In “A Moment of Innocence,” this reviewer’s favorite of all films to come out of post-revolution Iran, he describes his political naiveté at the time, which caused him to attack a policeman and end up in jail until he was freed at the revolution. A deeply religious young man, he didn’t know much about anything back then, let alone cinema.
Legend has it that he had never even seen a film till then, as viewing one is considered a sin by the more radical forms of Islam. Hired at the Iranian film institute, he soon caught up, watching hundreds of movies and becoming familiar –and besotted—with world cinema. His new passion naturally led him to directing his own films with the support of his wife and daughter, both directors in their own right. His first efforts are best forgotten but even those flawed attempts indicate an original cinematic vision. After years of endlessly jumping through hoops to please Iranian censors while still managing to convey that vision through more and more interesting and intelligent films, he had enough and started working with the emerging cinema in Afghanistan and Tajikistan.
Now resolutely turning his back on the Islamic Republic, he has, since June 12, become the official spokesperson for Mir Hossein Moussavi, Ahmadinejad’s unlucky rival in the apparently rigged recent elections in Iran. As such, Makhmalbaf travels all over Europe to garner support for the continuing fight of liberals and moderates against the hardliners of the Islamic Republic.
At a well-attended public demonstration in Paris yesterday June 21, he addressed French officials and a smattering of Iran’s young and less young carrying balloons, plastic whistles and green ribbons to indicate their support of Moussavi. With the sound system down, he had to shout to make himself heard over the crowd yelling “death to the dictator, death to Ahmadinejad, death to Khamenei.” He declared that he would not stop encouraging European leaders and the people of the European union to support the Iranian people’s struggle against oppression, “for today Iran is a country without a government” (pictures by the author).