Independent Cinema: Crash Course Film History #12
Kazem Mollaye: Our Film – independent film product
Iranian family thriller Badger shown at Austin Film Festival
The 27th International Film Festival (Austin Film Festival, abbreviated AFF) has ended in Austin. The winning film in the category «fiction cinema» named thriller «Badger» (The Badger), directed by Iranian director Kazem Mollaie. First Texas film screening «covid era» showed more than thirty feature films and dozens of short films.
The Austin show traditionally focuses on screenwriting. Its logo features a typewriter. – the main tool of labor of writers and journalists in the pre-computer era. AFF differs from many other American film festivals in its credo – interest in screenwriting as a field of creativity, in the contribution of screenwriters to the process of creating a film.
As the main festival selector Casey Baron emphasized in an interview, as in previous years, the main criterion for him and his colleagues was a strong and original plot basis of the film. As for the subject matter, preference in the selection was given to films that deal with the mental state of the characters and the relationship between people of different races and nationalities..
Fantasy was shown at the opening «Nine days» (Nine Days) director and screenwriter, debutant Edson Oda, of mixed Brazilian and Japanese descent.
«The central event» AFF became a melodrama «Goodbye love!» (Farewell Amor) African filmmaker Ekwa Msangi, who grew up in Kenya, Tanzanian.
The film, stylized after the aesthetics of films of the 30s, left a strong impression. «Runaway dreams» (Fugitive Dreams) directed by Jason Neulander. In AFF Comedy Section, Critics Highlight Polish Picture «Time for love» (Time for Love) and American «Reboot camp» (Reboot Camp).
As we already reported, films from other countries were invited to the Austin virtual festival, including from Spain, Denmark, Switzerland, Great Britain, Iran, Cameroon, Iran, France, Peru and Poland..
During online conversations with filmmakers, the topic of survival «independent», especially in the context of competition with the commercial mainstream, it sounded constantly.
This topic received an unexpected international aspect during an online conference with Iranian director Kazem Mollaye and actress Vishka Asayesh. The director emphasized that he was filming his own film. «Badger» without any government support, with the money of private sponsors
Kazem Mollaye and Viska Asayesh on the set. Courtesy photo
Iranian cinema has been considered one of the brightest phenomena of world culture for many years. Films by Iranian directors receive top awards at major international film festivals. It should be noted that more than once in recent years, difficult situations have arisen when the Iranian authorities did not release the filmmakers abroad, and their films – banned for censorship reasons. Sometimes «seditious» directors received a ban on the profession and a prison sentence. The most famous Iranian director to be imprisoned is Jafar Panahi, who was arrested in 2010 for «anti-government activities». As we reported earlier this year at the festival in Berlin, the main award «Golden bear» was honored with a film by Mohammad Rasulof «Evil does not exist». But the Iranian authorities did not allow Rasulof to attend the festival, who was sent to prison in 2019 for «propaganda dissemination», excommunicated from film work, but managed to secretly direct the filming of his new film.
Humans and Termites
«Badger» – the story of a 40-year-old Iranian woman named Sudekh, from whom, on the eve of her second marriage, unknown persons kidnap her son Matiar and demand a huge ransom for him. Otherwise, they threaten to kill the boy. The story develops according to the usual laws of the criminal genre until the moment when something unexpected happens, which makes investigators take a completely new look at Matiar. From abduction victim to prime suspect.
&# 171; Badger&# 187 ;. Still from the film. Courtesy photo
In parallel with the criminal one, the comedy-everyday line, which gave the film its name, is also developing. Termites have started up in the Sudekh’s house, and the company called to fight them brings a badger into the house, which, as the company’s employees explain to the amazed owners, is trained to sniff out termite nests.
During an online conference after the festival streaming of the film, Kazem Mollaye was asked how real the story of the badger was. The director answered with a laugh that so far these animals have not been used in the fight against termites in Iran. The actress Vishka Asayesh, who played Sudekh, saw an allegory in this line and said that Matiara can be considered a kind of termite that causes great damage to her home, her loved ones. According to her, she, preparing for filming, imagined herself a lioness, ready to do anything to save her offspring..
Director and playwright Kazem Mollaye was born in 1981 in the city of Sebzevar in northeastern Iran. Started his film career in 1999 with a short film «From game to…» (From Game to …). In 2005 he graduated from the faculty of directing at Soore University in Tehran. His first acting picture «Kupal» (Kupal) was released in 2017. Mollaye is a member of several Iranian public film organizations. He was a member of the jury of national and international film festivals.
Online discussion of the film &# 171; Badger&# 187 ;. Courtesy photo
Director Kazem Mollaye answered the questions of the Russian Service correspondent «Voices of America».
Oleg Sulkin: How did you hear about this story?
Kazem Mollaye: On one of the news sites I read a story about an 11-year-old boy. His parents were at odds for years and lived apart. To reconcile them, he decided to stage his abduction., – in the hope that a joint search will make the mother and father forget about the quarrel. At some point, the boy returned home in tattered clothes and told his father that the abductors had released him for some reason. At the police station, after a sleepless night of interrogations, the boy admitted that he had invented everything. When I read this story, I thought it was perfect for a movie. But, of course, a lot had to be added and changed. Major script change – everything happens before the new wedding of Sudekh, whose son dreams of upsetting her and reconciling his mother with her first husband.
O.S.: What attracted you to this story?
K.M .: First, incredible drama. Nothing needs to be strengthened emotionally, the decoys of interest are initially inherent in it. In the center of the plot – Sudekh, a strong and intelligent woman who must make decisions under high stress. It seems to me that it cannot but evoke sympathy and compassion among the audience. There is a lot inherent in the subtext. The hell that Sudekh goes through is expressed more in her gaze, her facial expressions than in dialogues.
O.S.: How did you shoot the film? Who funded it?
K.M .: This is a purely production project, we only attracted private money. Really, «Badger» – a product of Iranian independent cinema. The preparatory period took about four months, and it took two months to shoot in Tehran..
O.S.: How was the preparation for filming?
K.M .: I wrote the script seven years ago. Study of materials, script writing, script rework – all this took about two more years. Since they had to shoot in different places, with the involvement of many actors, all the producers at that moment did not dare to finance the project due to its complexity and high cost. I had to postpone it for the future and take it off instead «Kupal», which became my first gaming experience, which I had to finance from my own funds. And today I do not regret it at all.
O.S.: Actors in «Badger», especially Viska Asayesh, they play superbly. How did you select them?
K.M .: Interestingly, Vishka Asayesh – one of the best comedic actresses in Iranian cinema. I was attracted by the complexity of the task in front of her. This is a very serious role, full of inner drama, where you need to discard comfortable stereotypes and be extremely convincing. And today I am happy that Vishka and I have chosen this difficult path. She was accompanied by such leading actors of Iranian theater and cinema as Benush Bakhtiari, Reza Behbudi and Hasan Majuni.
O.S.: What was the main difficulty during filming?
K.M .: Unfortunately, the rate of inflation in Iran is very high and the cost of filmmaking is rising rapidly. It is necessary to puzzle every minute in search of optimal solutions, in particular, to reduce the number of locations in order to reduce the cost of production.
O.S.: Has your predecessor’s experience in Iranian cinema influenced you? Was Asghar Farhadi’s family drama «Divorce of Nader and Simin», award winning «Oscar», a source of inspiration?
K.M .: I looked for inspiration in all sorts of things, big and small. It is difficult to say in advance what is important and what is not. I and my generation were greatly influenced by such masters of national cinema as the Asghar Farhadi you mentioned, Bahram Beizai, Nasser Tajwai and Abbas Kiarostami. As for Asghar Farhadi, whom I consider to be my teacher, his films are extremely simple and realistic, and at the same time entertaining and contain important thoughts. But I’m against imitation. It is important for me to preserve my own identity, my handwriting, my atmosphere. I hope I got it.
Journalist, film critic, correspondent for the Russian Service «Voices of America» in New York. Subscription