Majid Majidi (photo: AP)

A Critical Phase Has Been Reached

Majid Majidi warns against the assumption that Iranian cinema can automatically be stamped with an international seal of quality. Success should be measured by the quality of each individual film.

The Iranian author and director Majid Majidi warns against the assumption that Iranian cinema can automatically be stamped with an international seal of quality allowing it to be blindly accepted as good and worthy of being bought. Success should be measured by the quality of each individual film.

How do you explain that Iranian cinema has been particularly successful abroad?

photo: AP
Majid Majidi

​​Majid Majidi: There are many reasons for this. In Iranian cinema elements such as morality, humanity, and human relationships play an important role, which has its roots in Iranian culture. One also finds interesting references to and traces of this in the architecture. During my research I discovered that many houses have very large gardens and courtyards, but the streets and alleys in many neighborhoods, particularly in poor neighborhoods, are very narrow.

It is said that the narrow streets serve the function of reconciliation. Sooner or later people run into each other, feel the other’s breath, and have no other choice than to put their disagreements behind them. The success of Iranian cinema is of course due to the fact that it shows other facets of Iranian life and culture and other images than those otherwise known in the Western media.

Is Iranian cinema as successful at home as it is abroad?

Majidi: Certainly. Every year 70-80 films are produced in Iran. They can be divided into different categories. On the one hand, there are the purely commercial films, and on the other hand are the films commissioned by certain centers or institutions or which are produced for television, for example on a historical person.

Art house cinema is another category. Despite their artistic quality, these films can also speak to a broad audience. I would just like to say that even purely commercial films deal with interesting subjects and are better and more sophisticated in comparison to commercial films of the period prior to the revolution. Since the Islamic Revolution in 1979 there has been an enormous display of talent and subjects. One can see that Iranian cinema took a great step forward eight years after the revolution.

A few Iranian and Western film critics have said that Iranian cinema is overrated abroad. What do you think?

Majidi: I believe that Iranian cinema has reached a critical phase. It seems as if Iranian cinema has been "pushed" by film festivals. There are reasons for saying this. One gets the feeling that Iranian cinema has become a mark of quality, meaning it is blindly valued and bought up.

It should not be forgotten that Iranian cinema emerged with great potential. I think, however, that the secret to the lasting success of Iranian cinema is its high quality. Even a product with a famous name will lose its renown and be forgotten if it doesn’t have a quality that lasts.

Iranian cinema is oriented too much around festivals. This is particularly true of the younger generation of filmmakers who are new on the scene. It is only natural that young filmmakers are blinded by the glamour and glitz of international festivals. But we have seen how important movements, for example Italian neo-realist cinema, forfeited glamour and importance by oversaturating festivals. Festivals determine taste or trends, but art can only survive in the long run if it really speaks to audiences.

Here it becomes relevant to ask for whom these films are made, in other words: do Iranian filmmakers aim to win international prizes, or do they try to speak to audiences at home?

Majidi: I see film festivals as a bridge, a gate, where one’s own work can be presented, nothing more and nothing less. A film can only be successful globally when it speaks to and draws in a wide audience. It is the same with literature or sports. Why is soccer a global sport, but not golf? Because it addresses the masses and captivates them. We can’t ignore the things that move people all around the world.

Sharam Ahadi © 2003
Translation from German; Christina White

Click here to get to Majidi’s homepage (in English)

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