Mehran Tamadon is a Paris-based filmmaker who’s spent most of his life outside of Iran. And yet, his skills as a host says “Iranian” as is revealed in his new film, entitled “Iranian” which is coming out next week in France and found no distribution in the U.S. nor gained any traction with festivals here.
In this documentary film a kind of summit on Islam and society is held at a house in Iran’s countryside. Tamadon, who is an atheist, hosts three visiting mullahs and a young bassiji. He’s asked them to come and stay with him for a couple of days as part of an experiment of living together and attempting to find some common ground. He tends to his guests with Iranian hospitality turned full on, preparing meals with the men, plying them with fruit, tea and minding skewers of chicken kabob grilling over charcoals (the clerics do their share of cooking and washing, too). Three clerics, one bassiji and one apostate sharing a house together. It’s social experimentation with an edge.
The film, which is screening in and around Paris and will be released in theaters on December 3rd had its world premiere at this year’s Berlin Fest. There are several reasons why “Iranien” is one of those not-to-be-missed movies: its filmmaker put himself in an extremely risky position trying to make it (his passport has been confiscated and he’s been forbidden from leaving the country for several months at a time); it is the only film of its kind joining Iranian mullahs and an atheist under one roof; the exchanges that are triggered from this encounter are mind-boggling, spine-tingling, at times funny and sometimes scary.
After just a few hours of living side by side a kind of haphazard camaraderie installs itself between Tamadon and the representatives of Iran’s ruling clergy, average men whose ordinary needs and desires compel. We’re shown them catching a nap, minding their children as they walk in the wooded area around the house, taking calls from a constituent worried whether her divorce is kosher in the eyes of God or not. In debate mode, however, the clerics’ angle is that they hold the truth, and since they are in power others, like Tamadon, had better conform or move out of the way. The latter, on the other hand, is clearly chasing down a utopian version of Iran, a democratically-governed society in which a variety of viewpoints should be allowed to thrive without fearing a threat.
The many discussions that take place in the space of this 105 minute-long documentary are absorbing to watch, not because of what’s being said (each side sticks to its position, predictably) but because of the mindspace that is gradually generated between the participants, an invisible agora for the enlightened in which participants can express themselves more or less freely and safely. Tamadon’s wit and intelligence is often outdone by the Mullahs’ rhetorical prowess and their charisma but, even though Samson keeps on keeping on, Goliath ultimately walks away the victor.
After last night’s screening the lively and sustained debate between Tamadon, who was present for a Q&A that followed, and the audience, were signs of the film’s engaging power. Questions went on forever and Tamadon, several years past the film’s in-the-can date, still has lots to say about it. “Iranien” is a conversation piece of a movie, and when Tamadon told me afterwards during a conversation that no U.S. festival had picked up the film yet, I thought, there’s a pretty large injustice being done to a very worthy documentary.
This article was previously published by our affiliated publication Iranian Film Daily.