Interview with Jafar Panahi, director of The Mirror
David Walsh: A number of Iranian films have been concerned with the relationship between the filmmaking process and reality. Why do you think this is?
Jafar Panahi: I feel that in order to come across to our audience and in order to develop a good relationship with our audience we must be straightforward and honest with them. So when they see the films they can draw parallels between what they see and the social realities that they face themselves. We respect the audience's intellect. We do not limit them to view things only the way we want them to. We don't limit them like commercial films. We even leave some empty holes in the films for them to develop their own stories. In my opinion today's cinema must respect the audience.
DW: What, in your opinion, is the relationship between realism and poetry?
JP: It is what we are trying to do in cinema. To capture this feeling that evolves within our hearts, without cheating and fraud. And to reflect that in the language of images.
DW: What was the starting-point for this film?
JP: One time I saw an old woman who was sitting on a bench, with her purse on her lap, looking into space. This image struck me quite strongly. I thought about this woman's life. I thought that she was in a closed circle, and was unable to escape from this circle. This image remained in my mind.
And I had the feeling as well that in our society everyone wears a mask over his face, and cannot remove that mask. And I thought that only a child, because he or she has not yet been contaminated, will notice this, and it is only a child who can decide to remove the mask from his or her face, and no longer play a role, and try to be herself.
DW: By what process did you choose this little girl?
JP: We go to schools, we speak with the children. We do some auditions. We ask them questions about themselves, their families. And we ask them to read something out of a book. The child eventually becomes comfortable and starts to show his or her normal behavior. We compare this with the image we have in our own minds of the character. To find the actor for this film I auditioned seven thousand people over a period of about two months. Eventually I decided upon a little girl. She came and acted in the first shot.
In the second shot I told her that she had to act upset. She said, why? I said, because your mother isn't here. She said, well, if my mother doesn't show up, I don't get upset. I said, well, you're playing the role of someone who does get upset when her mother doesn't come for her. She said, well, then go and find someone who does get upset when her mother doesn't show up.
Therefore from the second shot onward there is another actor who continues in the film. I was a little undecided about the centerpiece of the film, where the big transition takes place, but when this happened, it convinced me that my decision about the structure of the film was correct.
DW: Don't these performers give more than you expect?
JP: I learn from them. They add things to the film that I realize I hadn't thought of before. And I take those and I develop them and I give them a new image. That's why our scripts are never very precise. And the film that we end up making is never exactly like the script. This is where our major problem starts. They [government officials] come and they inspect the film, and they say this is not the same film as the script. "We didn't know before what we wanted to make either."
DW: I assume the girl quitting the film was in the script.
JP: I had thought about that before, but the first little girl confirmed that thought in my mind. And the dialogue that the second girl speaks later on is almost the same as the discussion I had with the first actor. We take impressions from reality and we do not lie to the audience. And we maintain our honesty.
DW: Do you object if we draw much wider social and political implications from the little girl's act?
JP: This is how our films are. There are various levels to our films. There is a surface layer which is what you see. Based on the perceptive abilities and the viewpoint of the audience to discover and understand the underlying layers of that film. And the more knowledgeable the audience members, the more they will realize the deeper issues underlying the surface. I don't want to limit you to only see the uppermost layer. And I'm hoping that our audiences see that.
1998 - 2012
World Socialist Web Site
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