Narges Abyar, filmmaker: “Iran’s cultural and political limitations separate us from the global industry” | Culture


Iranian filmmaker Narges Abyar (Tehran, 52 years old) is interested in what happens to women in conflicts and wars, specifically the role that violence plays in their lives and how it affects them. This is the axis of her five films; Also, the matter that has brought her to Madrid to give a talk at the Complutense University. “Don’t shake your hand, a small nod is enough,” warns the translator shortly before the meeting with Abyar, who appears shortly after and begins to speak in Farsi about violence, machismo, cinephilia… But not about politics: during the conversation only criticizes Iran’s “cultural and political limitations” that directly affect his work.

Ask. How complex is it to be a film director in Iran?

Answer. In this last decade, I have noticed a favorable change for us because we began to have more power in the industry. Although I get used to seeing more and more female producers and directors; I cannot ignore that it is a space dominated by men, something that not only happens in Iran, but in all countries. A woman must work three or four times harder than a man.

Q. Most of your films star women, is this your way of highlighting female roles?

R. [En Irán] We have few films told through a female perspective and I think it is very important that we expand the offer. Furthermore, as a woman, I perceive and understand their problems better.

Q. Your protagonists always operate in a context of conflict, why are you interested in how violence stalks women?

R. This is what we lived in my country for many years. [en referencia a la Guerra Irak-Irán de los años ochenta o al terrorismo sufrido en su país]. I consider that one of the most important tasks for a director is to show the reality in which we live. My work has been criticized for making films focused on suffering; My task is to show precisely that.

Q. However, to narrate this pain he does not usually use violent or bloody images.

R. No, i do not do it. I am interested in women’s stories and how war impacts their lives. in my movie Breath (2015) I focus on a girl who suffers the consequences of the war imposed by Iraq on Iran [entre 1980 y 1988]. In the same time frame, I did Trench 143 (2013), focused on the mother of a boy who volunteers to defend our country.

Q. Is it reflected in them?

R. Yes, a part of me is part of those characters. In Breath I show part of my own life and that of my generation: I unconsciously turn to characters I know. Then, I feel indebted to them.

Q. Precisely, Breath was selected in 2017 to represent Iran at the Oscars, the first time a film directed by a woman was chosen. How did you feel?

R. I was very happy and it was a peak in my career. However, the years go by and, as a filmmaker, I realized that these awards are not as important as staying in the collective memory. How many films didn’t win awards, but were great for their time and challenged the public’s mind? The latter, for me, is more relevant.

The filmmaker Narges Abyar.
The filmmaker Narges Abyar.DAVID EXPÓSITO

Q. Despite the difficulties, Iranian cinema is gaining more and more attention from the industry.

R. We have very good cinema. Furthermore, in the last 30 years it has grown a lot and its language has become more universal, addressing deeper concepts. The festivals I go to always ask about Iranian films: we have earned a space in the industry.

Q. What is missing then for Iran to have its own Hollywood?

R. We have many cultural and political limitations that separate us from the global film industry. People do not accept, for example, wearing the veil inside a house: it is not plausible that a woman would want to wear a headscarf in her own home. However, the laws of the Islamic Republic require that they be used in recording studios. Restrictions like this are an obstacle, but the positive thing is that it forces us [a los directores iraníes] to be more creative in our stories.

Q. What directors do you like?

R. My favorite international directors are [Federico] Fellini, [Alejandro González] Iñárritu and [Krzysztof] Kieslowski. I have followed his works for years. I’m interested in the realism of his films, which is very credible, and his perspective on the world. From Iran I highlight the work of Majid Majidi, Asghar Farhadi and Rakhshan Banietemad, who have influenced my work the most.

Q. And Spanish cinema?

R. Yes, I like everything [Pedro] Almodóvar, minus his latest feature film [Madres Paralelas]. In Iran we greatly appreciate Spanish cinema, especially for its aesthetics. Also, I love how Penélope Cruz acts in Everything about my mother.

Q. Do you think all cinema should be political?

R. Not necessarily. There is a defined genre of political films, but, in any case, politics can permeate other genres that are not part of that category.

Q. Do you see yourself directing a romance or a comedy?

R. Yes, everything is unpredictable and I like to be open to trying different genres.

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