The recipient of dozens of awards yet still largely unseen in its director’s homeland, ‘Rhino Season’ from exiled Iranian director Bahman Ghobadi hit cinemas. ‘You would not expect such great actors to play in such a small film, but they did,’ says Ghobadi.
“I had to leave Iran four years ago but I did not want to leave; the government pushed me out. I love Iran very much, so my soul is in jail now and this is worse than being in jail,” Ghobadi, the director of well-regarded films such as “A Time for Drunken Horses,” “Turtles Can Fly” and “No One Knows about Persian Cats,” told the Daily News last week.
“Rhino Season” (Fasle Kargadan) came out a few weeks ago after picking up international awards, but the film cannot be legally viewed in Iran.
After leaving Iran, Ghobadi went to Berlin, New York, Arbil and Paris to find a place to live. In the end, he decided upon Istanbul, which was the setting for the bulk of “Rhino Season.”
“After I moved to Istanbul [two years ago], I could not do anything to do with cinema for three months because I was away from my family, my friends and my culture; I felt like I my soul was in jail. So I decided to make myself busy again in order to find myself again; this is how I decided to shoot ‘Rhino Season’ in Istanbul,” he said.
Ghobadi called his friends and colleagues both from Iran and Arbil – where he also has an office – to shoot the film. Well-known actors like Monica Bellucci and Turkey’s Yılmaz Erdoğan, and Beren Saat, who is well-known throughout the Middle East for her role in Turkish soap operas, all offered to play in the movie for free.
Famous actors volunteer to be in film
“Everyone I talked to, including Monica Bellucci, Beren Saat, Yilmaz Erdoğan and others, said ‘yes’ when I told them that I wanted to make an independent film. Monica Bellucci didn’t even ask for the script. Beren Saat and Yılmaz Erdoğan were also very helpful,” Ghobadi said.
“We made a small film with a very small budget. You would not expect such great actors to play in such a small film, but they did,” Ghobadi said.
Ghobadi’s film relates the story of a Kurdish poet, Sahel, who spends 30 years in prison for writing poems. Sahel maintains his hope during the three decades of his incarceration with the dream of being reunited with his wife, Mina (played by Bellucci). But when he is finally released, he learns that Mina moved to Istanbul years earlier after being told that he had died in prison. Sahel, played by Behrouz Vossoughi, comes toIstanbul to watch his family from afar, but remains like a ghost, caught between the horror of the past and a present.
The story of Sahel was actually the story of three different real characters, Ghobadi said.
“Seven years ago, I met … Vossoughi in Los Angeles. He was my hero in Iran 35 years ago, but he left Iran after the Islamic Revolution. I told him that I wanted to make a film about him. So this film is about his life, my life and the life of a Kurdish poet,” said Ghobadi, himself an Iranian Kurd.
Ghobadi said that instead of a classic way of storytelling, he wanted to make the film look like a poem.
An amazing culture
When the world media reports on Iran, the topic is invariably politics or war, Ghobadi said, but added that Iranian society boasted a very deep culture and arts that were not reflected in the news.
“Seventy percent of the people in Iran are young people and they have an amazing culture. It is our job to show this deep culture to the world with our films,” he said.
Ghobadi called on the Turkish Culture Ministry to give support to independent Turkish films and directors instead of backing Hollywood films like “Skyfall” or “Argo.”
“I tried to call and talk to the minister of culture for more than a year, but he didn’t answer. However, if I were Ben Affleck, I wouldn’t even need to call them because they unroll the red carpet for this type of Hollywood actor,” Ghobadi said.
Ghobadi said his next project would focus on the Kurdish community of Iran.
Hurriyet Daily News,
Istanbul, November 20th, 2012