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Mark Cousins & Mohammad Ali-Talebi in Conversation

Filmmaker Mohammad-Ali Talebi talks to director and critic Mark Cousins about making films in Iran under sanctions, working with his two sons and coping with low budgets. Talebi explains how he creates suspense on a small scale, and reveals his love of Mike Leigh and Robert Bresson.

Transcript

Mohammad-Ali Talebi

We have a setting in Iran that "we are not a willow to be shaken by such winds." In this film, the willow tree is the symbol of fragility and instability, and the boy is the willow tree.

Mark Cousins

And how does that compare to the extraordinary young man in this film?

Mohammad-Ali Talebi

It compares because he is bent by the wind, but his resistance are like the roots of a willow tree, and he never gives up. Even at the end, when he is supposedly defeated by the wind, he starts the journey all over again, to get what he wants.

Mark Cousins

I think you're a great storyteller. And some filmmakers, I'm thinking of the great Japanese filmmaker Ozu, try to reduce the story as much as possible. Rossellini tried to reduce the story as much as possible.

Sometime in this film, you stretch a moment out, like the girl with the money, or measuring the glass. And so give me a sense of what story is for you. Is it an aggressive thing? Is it a metaphorical thing?

Mohammad-Ali Talebi

I don't have the luxury of Hollywood studios. I have to be innovative.

Interpreter

I haven't got the luxury of Hollywood to...

Mark Cousins

[Laughs]

Mohammad-Ali Talebi

I have a piece of glass, a boy...

Interpreter

I have just a glass, a piece of glass, and a little boy.

Mohammad-Ali Talebi

And the wind.

Interpreter

And wind. Three.

Mohammad-Ali Talebi

I try to create suspense and drama within this very small world.

Interpreter

I create a drama just by these little elements I've got on hand.

Mohammad-Ali Talebi

I make low-budget films, because that's all the money I can raise, and with that I do my best to create a powerful drama.

One of my films is about a boot. One is about an imaginary watch that a boy draws on his wrist. Everything is very simple and micro, but there are two sides to it. One is the narrative function, and the other, the philosophical layers it represents.

In this film I tried to question the educational system. In every film I've made, I pursued a similar critical view. Quite responsibly, since the beginning of my career, I've tried to focus on one issue for each children's film I've made.

[Clip from Chakmeh]

Mark Cousins

There's a simplicity in your visual style there, maybe because of low budget, but also, there's a sense of Hitchcock, almost.

Mohammad-Ali Talebi

I hadn't seen Willow and Wind in a long time, and in order to prepare the film for this screening, I watched it again and it seemed beautiful, even to me.

Mark Cousins

[Laughs]

Mohammad-Ali Talebi

And I told myself, gee it's as beautiful as an Ozu film!

In my heart, I thanked Mark Cousins, who's gathered all of these rare films from the corners of the world to show them here. I felt happy that Willow and Wind was appreciated.

And I agree with Mark that in certain moments of the film I get close to the world of Hitchcock. Especially the scene in the classroom, and in the camera moves that I've chosen.

Mark Cousins

But, you know, your films... I think they nourish us. And at a time when lots of our governments are trying to tell us that we should be enemies, you know, we must refuse to be enemies between Iran and other countries. And films like yours humanize Iran so much that they help us to see into the lives of real people. And so they're very, very special.

Mohammad-Ali Talebi

That is true because culture has nothing to do with the state.

Mark Cousins

There's a lot of goodness in your films. The people, the young people and old people, they help each other a lot. They see that they're in trouble, and they help each other. Is that optimistic? Is life as good as... are people as decent as they are in your films?

Mohammad-Ali Talebi

People are constantly changing. People were slightly better when The Boot and Bag of Rice were made. And they've gradually changed, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. It depends on the social conditions of the time.

Interpreter

And they are shifting. It depends on their social environment.

Mark Cousins

What happened to make them worse?

Mohammad-Ali Talebi

Let me give you an example. I was in Turkey, waiting for my connecting flight, and everybody was calmly waiting. But when it became known that the flight was going to be delayed by two hours, people's behavior suddenly changed. They were stressed and worried, and they took it out on the man behind the counter. We live in a country where the economy has been destroyed by sanctions, so naturally, in our daily lives we feel that pressure.

Mark Cousins

Who in Iran suffers most from the sanctions?

Mohammad-Ali Talebi

The middle class and upper middle class people.

Interpreter

Middle class. Even middle class, upper middle class.

Mohammad-Ali Talebi

Those who want to produce and create. For instance, I want to make a new film, but I have no money for it. Maybe this time I will have to make a film about a small piece of stone.

Mark Cousins

If anybody can make a film about a stone, you can.

Mohammad-Ali Talebi

I've always tried to make my films, no matter how impossible the situation is. These days I'm collaborating with my two sons. One of them is a DOP and the other is a composer. We work together because in this situation that's the only way I can make films. We've turned it into a family affair because that's the only way we can afford to make films.

Interpreter

He said...

Mark Cousins

If you had to choose one filmmaker who's influenced you more than any other, who would it be?

Mohammad-Ali Talebi

I love all of them. It is very difficult to pick only one.

Interpreter

They are all good. I cannot say which.

Mark Cousins

Oh, oh, oh.

Mohammad-Ali Talebi

In Britain, I love Mike Leigh more than anyone else.

Interpreter

Oh, he loves him.

Mohammad-Ali Talebi

Of course, I like Mark Cousins too.

Interpreter

Of course, he loves you too.

Mohammad-Ali Talebi

I love Robert Bresson. Andrei Tarkovsky, Robert Bresson, Chen Kaige.

Interpreter

He likes Tarkovsky.

Mohammad-Ali Talebi

Many directors. Theo Angelopoulos. These are the filmmakers I really love. There are many others too.

Interpreter

There are so many, many.

Mohammad-Ali Talebi

They are like juicy fruits on a tree. I sit at home and watch the films of great masters.

Interpreter

I...

Mohammad-Ali Talebi

And sometimes I watch my own films and I enjoy them too! I ask myself, in wonder, "You made this film?"

Interpreter

And sometimes I'll watch my own films. I think, "Wow, did you make it?"

Mark Cousins

Wow. Wow. And you can see the influence of Robert Bresson strongly, I think.

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