Despite the threat of a six-year prison sentence and a 20-year ban on filmmaking, renowned Iranian director Jafar Panahi premiered Pardé (Closed Curtain) at the 2013 Berlin Film Festival, where it won the Silver Bear for best screenplay. It is in many ways a follow-up to last year’s This Is Not a Film, his first movie made under the ban, which depicts Panahi’s daily life as he deals with the government’s restrictions—he is not allowed to leave Iran, give interviews, write, or make films. Complementing that film, Pardé, co-directed with longtime collaborator Kamboziya Partovi, delves into Panahi’s inner life and answers such metaphysical questions as whether Panahi can continue to exist if he is forbidden to make films.
In Pardé’s first half we watch a writer, played by Partovi, secreting his very likeable dog inside a villa bordering the Caspian Sea. Considered unclean by Islamic law, dogs are being slaughtered by the truckload, and the authorities are after them both. He is soon disrupted by a young woman (played by Maryam Moghadam), herself in trouble for attending an illicit beach party. She seems capable of disappearing at will, leading the viewer to wonder if she even exists. The question is answered in the second half, when Panahi appears as himself on screen. We learn the two characters represent Panahi’s conflicting thoughts and feelings as he struggles with whether to try and work under the ban, give up filmmaking, or possibly end his life all together.
During the Berlinale, Partovi and one of his translators met with the Brooklyn Rail in Potzdamer Platz to discuss what it was like to make the film under the ban and what this means for Panahi.
Karen Rester (Rail): You’ve said that initially just the two of you embarked on the project. When Panahi was in front of the camera you directed and vice versa. Later you brought in cinematographer Mohammad Reza Jahanpanah and actress Maryam Moghadam. What was your daily routine like?
Kamboziya Partovi: It was not complex. We’d film a couple of hours during the day and edit at night, or we’d film at night and edit in the morning. We worked night and day. It took about 25 days of filming.
Rail: You and Panahi cleverly incorporated the restrictions into the film’s story. For instance you blackened out all the windows so no one would suspect that you were filming, which the writer does to hide the dog, and you both took on roles to limit the number of actors involved. What surprised you most about making a film under the ban?
Partovi: That we were able to make a film despite this really difficult situation. That we were able to finish it. It was a big deal for both of us. When I looked at Panahi he had so much energy. One year before he was so depressed; his character is the kind that can’t just stay at home and do nothing.
Rail: Given that you knew the film would not be shown in Iran—I believe no film of Panahi’s has been shown in your country since Dayereh—whom were you making it for? Whom did you imagine to be your audience?
Partovi: Panahi couldn’t do anything, he couldn’t work so he started writing this idea. When the script was finished we were so excited about it we started thinking, “How can we make this?” If Panahi were a painter he would start painting just to pass the days. Since he’s a filmmaker he developed a film. We weren’t thinking about audience, about presenting the film. We started filming because we were excited about the idea. With a little team we realized we could do it.
Rail: Does Pardé require an understanding of the circumstances under which it was made to be fully appreciated or does it stand on its own?
Partovi: Both are possible. Consider the situations of Hemingway and of Iran’s foremost modernist writer Sadegh Hedayat. The reasons for their suicides were very personal. The situation for Panahi is like the situation for artists like this. He was not in a good mood, he was depressed, he couldn’t work, and he couldn’t continue his life. But he used this situation to create a work of art. So he made it and now he feels better. After 10 or 20 or 100 years when you watch this movie maybe you don’t know anything about Panahi. You see some characters, and, oh, you realize there are things that are real and things that come from Panahi’s imagination. By end of the movie you understand the reason for what Panahi imagines—the positive and the negative sides, as well as the reasons for his depression. This is a personal experience but it could happen to every artist.
Rail: Has Panahi contemplated suicide?
Partovi: He has thought about it. Within this circumstance, his environment, if he’s not allowed to work this is something that would appeal to the mind, facing himself within this predicament.
Rail: It seems filmmaking is not a choice for Panahi, but something he must do. In a sense Panahi is, despite the ban, making films to stay alive. And yet, the very act of making films puts his life in danger. In America we call this a catch-22. Is this how Panahi sees it?
Partovi: I think the situation is as you say. But for Panahi the first reason he must make films is not economical; it’s about wanting to make movies. When Panahi finds himself in his house under the ban he would say, “I’m not in prison, I’m outside prison so I should continue to make films. If I can’t make films, there is no difference between prison and home.”
Rail: At yesterday’s press group you said you were “excited and worried” about the film’s reception. Did you mean you were worried how the Iranian authorities would react?
Partovi: I was just worried about the feedback, whether the critics would understand the film. There are many layers to it. And in the past Panahi’s movies were always about Iranian society and based on reality. This is the first time he moves between imagination and reality. It was a new experience for him.
Rail: Have the Iranian authorities reacted to the film?
Partovi: Not yet.
Rail: Should this film be understood as a form of political resistance?
Partovi: For us, it’s about a filmmaker who wants to make a movie. It’s about this act of creating as an artist. That’s the most important thing. If you look at it politically you can find it is a film of resistance, but we don’t even think about this. It’s about creating art.
Rail: You said that “at any minute someone could come and take [Panahi] away.” Is he worried this film will result in his going to prison?
Partovi: It’s a possibility. We have our hopes [that he won’t] because this is a personal movie.
Rail: You mentioned that you’re getting a lot of political questions. Are there any questions the press hasn’t asked that you feel they should?
Partovi: I would prefer having no questions, just reviews. But in this situation we can’t avoid the political. Since I’m presenting this film [at the Berlinale] I can answer questions about the film, and I should answer questions about Panahi because we are close friends and his situation is so particular. But as for the political questions, such as what is the government is going to do to us—I can’t know that. The situation is confusing. They told Panahi: You are going to prison. Twenty years no filmmaking, no interviews. But he’s still in his house; he can go anywhere in the country. Why isn’t he is in prison? We can’t explain it.
[Since the interview was conducted, Iranian authorities confiscated Partovi and Moghadam’s passports so they can no longer promote the film abroad. The Iranian government criticized Berlinalie organizers for awarding Pardé, which continues to screen at festivals. Panahi has yet to be arrested.]
Pardé (Closed Curtain) premiered at the 2013 Berlin Film Festival on February 12.
Karen Rester is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn and Berlin.