Wednesday, January 18, 2012
Golshifteh Farahani, the 29 year old Iranian actress has appeared (together with 31 other young actors) before the camera of the fashion photographer and video artist Jean-Baptiste Mondino.
- A photo series called Espoirs 2012, Génération Spontanée that was published in Le Figaro's Madam section, featuring 7 of these actors (including Golshifteh Farahani) [post-script: her picture was removed within hours].
- A "propaganda/publicity" video, called "Revelation 2012, Corps et Ames. On the surface, the video pretends to destigmatize the images of body, across cultures and borders. Actors are mostly French (judged by names) and there are a handful of Middle Easterners. They all speak French on camera, except Golshifteh, whose voice is edited over her picture while dropping her shirt exposing her right breast.
The on-camera lines (and Farhani's voiceover) of Mondino's video 'promote' freedom of body and soul, in nudity, in unity with oneself, decidedly entering chaos and controversy, to exercise a right ... but the main objective of this advertisement is to introduce the acting "hopes" of the French Cinema in 2012, a point that is also made explicitly on the video.
Revelation 2012 is NOT a political video (although all video-ads are guided by the cinematic rules of propaganda that provides them a political potential as well). However, many Iranians have jumped to praise or chastise Golshifteh for the suggested politics of this ad (which is riding the waves generated by the 'post-Alia breastologists'!).
As all things Iranian, it takes only a few "Persian genes" to make any individual's act into a political one. As such, the nude presence of Golshifteh Frahani has been pulled out of its proper context and turned into a sociopolitical cause for cyber-uproar (and anti-uproar, by those who are drawing attention to the increasing pressure from the regime on activists and researchers in the wake of the parliametry election in Iran).
The sexually oppressed and depressed Iranian community is jumping on their pontification horses as I am writing:
- some are praising the "innocence" of this "courageous" representative of "Iranian women" in contrast to the 'dirtiness' of those who observe the Islamic Hijab
- some are raving about her taboo-breaking exercise
- some are in awe of her controversial bravery and, like spectators of a bull fight, are betting over some Islamic fundamentalist outrage
- some are scolding her tarnishing the image of the Iranian Woman (who is supposedly modest and mysterious and asexual)
- some are making jokes and parodies and predicting some of Iran's fundamentalist filmmakers will soon appear naked on a publicity video
- some are discussing the aesthetics and are drooling over the fact that a famous photographer has depicted her, HENCE, they claim, this must be a Michelangelian work of art!
- some are loathing her opportunism, and calling her act "business as usual in the show industry"
- some are silently WORRIED about the Iranian Cinema and concerned (and angry) about the ramifications of this publicity stunt for the independent filmmakers of Iran.
I fall in the last two categories. In what follows, I will explain why I am disappointed with her 'choice'; and next I explain why I do not consider her act one out of political conscience.
Golshifteh Frahani is a beautiful girl. She embodies the "classical" Persian beauty; and as such she owes her opportunities to her God-given gift of beauty more than to her talent as an actor, singer, or artist (even when she sings, she sounds mediocre to me). Of course, to have come from a family of theater/cinema artists (France-educated father, mother and sister) and to have been set in the path of learning music since early age, helps anyone in the show business.
Her first screen-break came with (cinema master) Mehrjui's 'The Pear Tree'. In this film, the 15 year old Golshifteh plays the role of a teenager tomboy, who appears in the memory flashbacks of a middle aged man who has returned from abroad to revisit his family and his past.
Somehow, this image of slightly "dreamy" tomboy beautiful young girl is a formula for success in Iranian cinema (it is a projection of liberty and equality which Iranian girls seek in the society) and Golshifteh has had her share of luck by embodying this image by appearing in several notable films.
The reason why I am frustrated by the controversy over her pseudo-nude picture comes from tracing her active attention-seeking traits in the past few year.
One of the (internationally) notable films of Farahani is "About Elly (2009)" by the 2012-Golden Globe winner of the best foreign film (A Separation), Asghar Farhadi. "About Elly" is a psychological thriller about a group of friends on a weekend retreat in the Northern coast of Iran. The film was a narrative breakthrough in the Iranian Cinema, as it departed from the political/poetic neorealist Iranian genre. About Elly put Farhadi on the radar of international cinephiles. The film won him the Silver Bear of the Berlin Film Festival for best director and was lauded at NYC's Tribeca. However, because of Miss Farahani, the Iranian regime banned the film from appearing in Iran's 27th Fajr Film Festival--a festival that despite all political skepticism can launch a director's national career, or at least help their film producers recuperate their investment in the local box office.
The reason for banning About Elly was that the lead actress, Golshifteh Farahani, was contracted by Hollywood to appear against Leonardo diCaprio in the Body of Lies. To join Hollywood is a deliberate affront to the Islamic Regime's ministry of guidance, and a guarantee that the actor or actress will lose all legitimacy in the face of the Iranian censors. For her 'disobedience', About Elly was also to be punished (a decision that was later reversed and gained Farhadi sweeping success in the Fajr Festival), Farahani's passport was confiscated (mainly to prevent her from appearing n another blockbuster, Prince of Persia). Banning About Elly and preventing Farahani from leaving Iran gave the young actress sufficient publicity to launch her asylum-case and acting career abroad. Soon, the controversies about her travel ban died out and she emerged in Hollywood as an artist in exile!
That Farahani's new (read nude) "fame" coincides with Farhadi's Golden Globe victory is ironic! It is ironic because the Iranian cinema community were hoping that the international fame of Farhadi will put pressure on the Iranian regime to lift sanctions and pressure they have recently imposed on Iranian cinematographer (e.g. by closing the House of Cinema--a case about which Farhadi has publicly spoken). This hope, is now vanished, thanks to the lovely French whose progressivism, be it Foucault or Figaro, don't seem to leave us Iranians alone!
The reason why I focus on the case of Farhadi/Farahani is that in this age of "media persuasion" is it critically important to be aware of how different media-devices interact with each other. If contextualized as such, then acts and images of actors extend beyond the private realm and become political. Once things become political, time is of the primary essence. It is the 'timing' of Farahani's nudity vis a vis Farhadi's Hollywood success that frustrates me. [Note that Farhadi's been successful in the eyes of the world even before Hollywood nodded at him, he IS a good filmmaker, with or without Hollywood paying attention.]. Farahani's breasts have stolen the spotlight from A Separation! [post-script: until some White House official congratulated Farhadi for getting short-listed for an Oscar nomination!! What the hell do politicians have to do with artistic cinema of Iran TOTALLY baffles me!]
The other (and related) point to pay attention to is that Golshifteh Farahani's act is NOT a political one by her design or 'activist' wisdom. In such publicity affairs, it is more likely that Farahani is "selected" or "promoted by her managers" to appear in a video for Cesar et Chaumet (the French equivalent of Oscar's). What Iranians who are jumping the 'intellectual and feminist' horses need to know is that she has not initiated the video, she has not directed it, she has not written the script. She is just one eye-candy out of 31; selected by the merits of her beautiful face, her public presence in internationally released films such as Body of Lies and Poulet Aux Prunes and her exotic 'foreignness' that considering the content of the video promises the French Cinema in 2012 to be provocative, agitating Islamic sensitivities (tied to an actress who is banished by the IRI for showing her hair).
If I were a cineast, I would be dumb to not take advantage of Golshifteh in this age of cinematic Iranophilia. (A recent example is a new book The Directory of World Cienma: Iran, which has the picture of Farahani on the cover--without her meriting a significant place in the Iranian Cinema.) It seems, someone has done a market research, has looked at the hit-statistics on internet and has come to a conclusion that Farahani's image gets attention and sells!
Within this context, if I were Farahani, I should have exercised a LOT of restraint, and POLITICAL AWARENESS to have said NO to such a lucrative offer. She was given a golden opportunity, and she took it without the slightest concern about the ramifications of her decision for the Iranian Cinema, INSIDE Iran. She didn't have to. We don't live our lives for others. But I try to explain why she SHOULD have given a damn!
A few months ago, several Iranian female actors wrote an angry open letter in response to one of those ugly (anti)cultural official filmmakers (Farajollah Salahshoor) who had said: The Iranian cinema is full of female whores, we don't need to recruit Angelina Jollie to be profitable. Clearly, the image of women on screen, which has been a major player in forming the post-patriarchic psychology of the Iranian society is under assault these days. The choice of Golshifteh to appear nude with certainly be fanning the flames of censorship in Iran. It will inevitably BURN many a female figures on the silver screen.
You might say that the Iranian regime is a worthless entity that must be challenged and toppled. The problem, however, is that it is not only the draconiamn Iranian regime (who is going ahead with execution a Canadian Iranian man on allegations of having set up a porno website) that has an issue with a nude Iranian on screen. Unfortunately, many Iranians, even opponents of the IRI, are sexually uptight and consider a nude female a cultural affront to the figure of Persian Women who is supposedly 'pious' and 'pure'.
Funnily, MANY people who were trying to 'defend' Farahani's choice were drawing attention to her 'innocent and pure eyes' [as opposed to her 'dirty' breasts ?!?]. What made it funny was that these people were willfully overlooking the sensual gaze of Farahani and the deeply enunciated voiceover: "I embody your dreams", which puts to rest any doubt that she (and the French cinema industry] IS (and will be) cashing on her sex-appeal. Such comments from Iranians, even the proponents of Farahani's choice and the Anti-regime folks, reflect how uncomfortable Iranians are with any sexual discourse.
Now in such anti-cinematic political environment inside Iran and within the realm of Iran's sexual psychology, taking a shirt off on a video will inevitably generate a political discourse that will hit the cinema without making a dent in the century's old national psychology. Whether Farhani's right breast is a good thing for the future of female-emancipation (assuming Iranian women need such emancipation) is debatable (but this is not where I want to debate it). However, many Iranian cinephiles are holding their breath awaiting the damage that this act of Farahani will exact on the already fragile body of Iranian Cinema.
I belong to this group of concerned cinema lovers who think this choice was a self-serving practice that lacked collective conscience. Although, as a woman, I respect the rights of anyone who wish to be nude at whatever level of sexual or sensual exhibitionism. I do not believe in 'purity' of anti-sexualism.
If Farahani issues a statement that she has appeared before the camera as an individual WITHOUT claiming any national-ambassadorship or political agenda, I will respect her. But, in a connected world, as a member of a film-family, as someone who owes her fame and fortune to this resilient and beautiful family that the Iranian Cinema community is, she has done something highly undemocratic and self-serving, without discussing or putting to vote her intentions.
Part of democratic exercise is that we move collectively, for common political goals. I consider her choice a deviation from that principle, and as such I would personally cast her aside from the Iranian Cinema community.
It is ironic, in the few films that I have seen of her, she is playing the role of a slightly 'off', impressionable yet stubborn little kid who falls in circumstantial trouble, following an 'impulse' or in reaction to some form of pressure. It is perhaps not a coincidence that Le Figaro publishes her photo among a series of "Generation Spontanee" ... I consider her act a spontaneously impulsive case of opportunism, and a reactionary one as far as political readings are concerned.
P.S. In a facebook note, someone noted that it is only Golshifteh who exposes her breast, and that even when 'utilized' as a provocative prop by the french photographer, se is treated with the 'tender' discrimination extended to the "exotic" other ... what a SHARP observation.