Can you imagine the story of A Separation taking place in the West instead of the Middle East?
Of course, I can. In this case, however, there would be parts of the story that would have been changed for sure, while some other parts wouldn’t. So far I watched the film with very different audiences all around the world, and through their deep sympathy for the characters I noticed that the problems portrayed by me, can be their actual problems as well. Since my first film, my main interest lies in the subject of general human relationships, which can be similar everywhere regardless of the political system. If you want to find the local taste in A Separation, you have to focus on the depicted social categories on specific and pure Iranian levels, where the people come from. Let’s take for example the figure of the caretaker, who is a religious woman and whom you can find only in this part of the world, not in Western countries.
Why do you prefer to emphasize the power of women in contemporary Iran?
To tell the truth, it just happens, but not because of my preferences. The attitude of the heroes always depends on the story, and you are right: in my last three films (Fireworks Wednesday, About Elly, A Separation) the female figures are more active and male figures defend the traditional security of home and family. Although the activity rate of the characters is influenced mainly by the necessities of the plot, we should consider that the Iranian women - contrary to general belief - live a very dynamic life these days. They go beyond their limits in many ways, and this is a fact we can’t neglect.
Can we talk about politics in connection of A Separation?
No, not at all. I detest considering my work as political. My films are not a kind of encyclopaedia of Iran, I don’t make them to explain to people outside Iran what is happening at home. If you want to learn about the country, let’s travel to, let’s read the papers and watch the news. Watching my films as a description of the present day society is the most what you can get out of it, but social criticism was not my main purpose. I try to follow a realistic visual style close to documentary, but I reach it with technical tools, like using handycam in most of the shoots. The sight of a human corpse in blood still makes me sad, even if it belonged to an evil dictator before.
New tools, classical goals?
Shooting with a carried camera has two important advantages: one of them is the realistic impact that I have already mentioned, the other is the possibility of strong expression of tension. I always want to transmit the feeling of stress to the audience. The Iranian tradition of cinematic realism is very important to me, but my films are not classical in the sense of performance at all. I connect the modern style of acting with the thousand year old Persian cultural and intellectual scenery. The films of famous Iranian directors are following a great civilisation (including literature, painting, architecture, and so on) that differs from the rest of the world just because of this heritage. So it is hard to decide if I am walking in new footsteps or old.
You dedicated your Golden Bear prize to Jafar Panahi, who has been sentenced to six years in prison in Iran. Are you in touch with him?
I see him in different places, in theaters, in the streets, at various events in Iran. Actually he is not in prison, but he can not work and he can not leave the country. I hope his problem will be resolved soon, and the whole family of film makers will be happy with the news that everything is all right.