For Iranian director, film is a fight for life

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For Iranian director, film is a fight for life

Less than a year ago, the Iranian filmmaker Tahmineh Milani faced execution in a trial held by Iran’s Revolutionary Council.

Milani, who had just filmed a story about a woman who reveals to her husband a hidden past as an activist in opposition to the Iranian Revolution, was arrested and jailed after her movie “The Hidden Half” was released in Tehran. Milani was charged with criticizing the Islamic Revolution and for abusing the arts as a “tool for action.”

News of her arrest spread fast, and within a few months filmmakers and academics around the world signed a petition that pleaded her innocence. In September, Milani was released on bail by order of the Iranian President Mohammad Khatami.

“It was an event that reminded me people in the film industry are one big family,” said the 41-year-old filmmaker Saturday. Milani was in Seoul with her husband, the producer Mohammad Nikbin, for a special screening organized by the Women’s International Film Festival. Clad in a black robe and a headscarf, she was placid, her usual demeanor, even during when she was on trial for her life.

“The Hidden Half,” which was called “a political melodrama” by some critics, deals with a woman who confessess her past as a Communist activist when her husband, a senior judge named Kohsro, is assigned to a case involving a leftist female political prisoner, a situation similar to his wife’s.

As the story proceeds, Kohsro, acted by Milani’s real-life husband, comes to a better understanding of the complicated politics of Iran today, and eventually, his deceitful wife. In the film, Koshro’s wife often tells her husband, “Don’t judge people too easily,” and challenges his political consciousness by sharing her own experiences through a letter.

“I had to exercise some mighty power as a director because my husband didn’t begin as a trained actor,” Milani said. “He was so frustrated during the romantic scenes. At one point, he got angry and asked the main actress to leave the room and demanded to be left alone.”

When asked how she could allow her husband to play an intimate role with one of the most attractive Iranian actresses, Niki Karimi, Milani said with a smile that she is often regarded among Iranian filmmakers as a courageous woman.

“One of the important aspects of the film is the process of a wife explaining to her husband her hidden past,” she said. “I wonder regardless of which ethnicity you come from, how many men are so strong that they can stand to hear their wives talk about their pasts.”

This struggle to confront and negotiate with the absolute power system is a frequent theme in many of Milani’s films.

In “Two Women,” a film about girlfriends from college who walk drastically different paths, one of the women stands up to three men - her father, her husband and a stalker. On Saturday, Milani made frequent references to the “dialogue theory” - the usage borrowed from President Khatami’s new political approaches.

“There tends to be some inaccurate observations about Iranian women by people outside of Iran,” said Milani. “There are conservative traditions and legal restrictions on women in Iran. But within that, there is also a dilemma and a willingness to overcome a situation.”

This is perhaps one of the reasons why Milani hasn’t given up talking about the intellectual (often middle class) Iranians like herself who experienced the political turbluence in the late 1970s and are now in the process of looking back on history. “For some reasons, it appeals to Western film festivals to talk about Iranians who are poor, and who live in a rural village.”

by Park Soo-mee

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