Paris-The first thing you notice about Golshifteh Farahani is her eyes. They’re large and project a gaze that at times reveals an uneasiness in the person. She wears almost no make-up, her only whim a pair of fashionable sunglasses which she quickly removes after sitting down in the Left Bank bistro where we met. I ask if she’s had time to enjoy Paris’s vibrant cultural life and her face brightens up, as she tells me about the latest Ariane Mnouchkine play which she just saw. She also mentions being constantly on the road, working on new projects, recording music and doing endless press junkets. The conversation soon turns to the repression apparatus, back in her home country of Iran. Lately, the state’s new policies which have tended to turn relations with the citizenry into a game of cat and mouse, have been more repressive than ever. Life during the last few years in Tehran had become unbearable for Farahani, so she left.
As she explained it to me, there’s a paternal context to the way Iran’s intelligence services treat people like Farahani. It is possible to lead a semi-normal life in Tehran, but if you don’t check in with “dad” regularly, she tells me, there will be consequences. Interrogations are followed by court appearances in an ever-continuous loop fed by suspicion and false accusations. “When you’re an artist,” she says, “by definition you are part of the opposition movement.” Then she mentions the personality-altering effect of being put through these interrogations. “There’s the you before, and then there’s the changed you, after.”
Farahani left Iran eighteen months ago to settle here. Her French is adequate, but she doesn’t seem overly enthused by her new surroundings. It might have to do with the fact that she’s constantly traveling and has only had about four months actually living here. “At that point, I was looking for some place to call my home,” she adds. “It didn’t really matter where it is.” But Farahani, whose husband is half French, is in good company. The diaspora that lives in Paris has always included Iran’s best intellectuals and artists, a protracted but gradual exodus which began fifty years ago.
After nineteen films to her credit back on home turf, Farahani made her entrée onto the European and American markets with About Eli, an ensemble cast film which was very well received on the festival circuit (Tribeca; it earned a Silver Bear at the Berlinale this year).
When I asked her if she thought of going back home to Iran, it was clear by her voice that she missed her country. But enjoying a perfectly free existence must be exhilarating. Iranian authorities have engaged in conciliatory talks in the hopes of bringing her back into the country. But Farahani is undecided. She is part of the jury at the current Locarno Film Festival, and she has a number of role offers to choose from. “I don’t consider myself a political activist,” Farahani told me, “I try to say what I have to say through art.”
NOTEWORTHY FILMS: “About Elly” (2009), “Chicken with plums” (2011), “The Patience Stone” (2012) (READ our review of “The Patience Stone”)