Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Staged 'activism' of Golshifteh Farahani or Media Opportunism of the 'spontaneous generation'?


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.




24 comments:

Anonymous said...

great article. Who are you?

Naj said...

Anonymous, who are you yourself?!

Iranian idiot said...

Very Informative!

Isn't it interesting when you see the people around you burst out with their crazy ideas?

Anonymous said...

ehem. right breast, to be correct.

Anonymous said...

great article indeed.

Naj said...

Yes right breast :))

cupka said...

I respect you for this very well thought and well written piece! finally I saw my thoughts put in words... if I was good at writing I would have written a piece very much like this one of yours... respect woman. respect....

Anonymous said...

This article is pushing the agenda of the iranian regime just like most of her other articles. Fact of the matter is that Golshifteh has done something unexpected of an Iranian woman. Breaking the barriers. And thats what art does. Persian calligraphy on the walls is not the only from of art. Bahman Mofid pnce said "artists must be committed to a cause". After all art is one of the few forms of expression. Though the message of the piece is not political, Golshifteh has broken the barrier that has existed for all iranian women, and that in itslef is admirable.

Anonymous said...

And your article is repetitive

Naj said...

Anonymous,

The problem with your argument is that you assume Golshifteh is the Artist in this video. she is NOT! The artist is Mondino, not Golshifteh.

Cinema is an inherently political business, any thing that has mass audiences is political; but the way Golshifteh's picture is taken out of context, by people like you, is slightly childish and silly. Your assumed dichotomy of "regime versus Golshifteh" is another stupid point, but I dodn't need to address that!

I don't know what repetitive means, but be my guest and help me edit it.

Naj said...

By the way, what Golshifteh has done would have been indeed admirable if "SHE" was the producer of the work of art.

Anonymous said...

I have posted your article on my fb page. This is while many of my so called intellectual friends fell into the cliche trap and viewed this out of context as you mentioned. They saw her photo as a brave act of defiance against the regime. As you mentioned cinema and most mass media are political tools in the hands of few powerful elite. The timing of the release of this is first and foremost a questionable act. This is what tips their hand. A day after Farhadi's GG win which became the talk of the Western world portraying Iranian cinema as progressive and sheds light on Iranian internal conflict specifically the closure of House of Cinema this is released. What this intended to do to polarize our society. To push away moderate religious perhaps sympathizing with the progressive cause away from the movement. The West uses artists with massive following residing in the West as their political ponds effecting native cultures. I happen to know this artist through interactions a couple of yrs ago and at the time of my encounter she was anything but political and if anything even as a human being she was naive opportunist and uncaring. How she has become a person to even consider as a political or progressive artist is beyond me unless she now has a political handler. I guess all you need is to make a video and claim so yourself and people's bias because of your fame will grant you just what you ask of them.

hajibaba said...

There are so many ad-hominem attacks being made against Golshifteh that I dont even know where to start. It does sound like you are all over the place with your criticisms. So much so that you sound more angry than someone attempting to present a fair critique of Golshifteh's actions. There are also far too many assumptions/opinions being presented as facts.

For example you say:

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.

you cite examples of tomboy roles she played in as "attention-seeking." thats pretty far-fetched claim and impossible to prove. same for the assertion that the timing of the video release was "ironically" chosen to coincide with the Golden globes, taking attention away from "A Separation".Interesting since earlier you said Golshifteh had 0 role in the production of the video so how could she have had any possible leverage over the timing of it's release? You are contradicting yourself it seems? Perhaps because you don't really have a legitimate grievance, other than being very noticeably ticked off? By the way you mention the timing of the video release coinciding with the golden globes, irony implies a level of contradiction. There was nothing contradictory about the timing of the two events. One can say it was a coincidence or if you want to frame it as a conspiracy you might use the word questionable to describe it but irony just doesn't fit. Also, "funnily" is not a word. I think you wanted to use something like "Interestingly enough..."

"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"

How do you know this to be the case? Have you had personal conversations with Golshifteh about her thoughts going into the creation of the video? Sounds like you haven't so again, an impossible claim to validate.

Another opinion impossible to test the validity of:

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

And how do you know the people in the video, including Golshifteh were targeted for their looks? And in Golshifteh's case her looks and her fame? Have you reached out to the folks who directed this video project and specifically asked them who these people are and what was the criteria or motivation behind their inclusion in the video?

I think if YOU are going to present your opinion as an Iranian woman, in a blog which you dedicate completely to Iranian issues, then perhaps it might be wise to write factual, non-contradictory articles with a distinct message in mind, rather than attacking an individuals character. Especially when its a fellow Iranian woman. Whatever happened to unity? I thought that was one of the major platforms of the "reformist" movement in Iran which you claim to support in your blog. Just sayin....

Naj said...

Hajibaba,

I would be very grateful if you can supplement factual information about the production of this video. I will happily correct any farfetched presumptions--which are based on my familiarity with the way cinema/advertisement industry work.

I have clearly identified which group of reactions mine comes from, so the reader is advised in advance about the sources of my reaction.

Naj said...

Hajibaba,

I came back to re-reading your comment; and whereas I appreciate some of your editorial input; I have to say you are taking this completely the wrong way.

You sound like a blinded fan of Farahani, who is there to read TOO much into her actions and even further into my reactions--and you don't seem to be an accurate reader either. (I never said her playing tomboy roles has anything to do with her opportunism; I said her tomboy character appeals to the public and brings her success. I think that is genuinely the person that she is, a little enfant terrible, mischievous and selfish (like all of her spontaneous generation--and hence her appeal to that generation).

Or, I never said the 31 actors were selected for their looks; I said they were selected as future hopes of the French cinema!

To simplify the objective of the article (since you seem a bit deafened by your own cacophony):
Golshifteh Farahani does NOT deserve the political credit she is receiving. To equate her to Mariana of France or Tahere Ghoratoleyn is a sign of naivitee and unawareness of the "media business." It is also FALLING IN A TRAP OF SENSATIONALISM AND MISTAKING IT WITH STRATEGIC POLITICAL ACT. It is a reactionary attitude which I cannot support-I do not support any "reactionary" acts of courage; they are just like lotto-money!

I don't have anything against her; she is just an actress whose performances do NOT appeal to me. I find her superficial and a bit fake (she hasn't gone to theater school, has she?)--although I think she is pretty.

I repeat, if she was the ACTOR of this process, if she had taken off her shirt and explicitly said I am doing it to protest the ban IRI has put on my return to Iran for appearing without hijab, then I WILL HAVE respected all attention she is getting.

But she has NOT! She is just one of the 31 French actors who are part of Mondino's project. She is a film actress; and she has done her JOB before camera: acted such that to suggest her exoticism embodies the dreams about the 'other'. This is simple film-reading; it is not vendetta! Mondino will be very happy to read my interpretation of his video message. ;)

Now if you want to enjoy your zeal and pursue your vendetta against me, then break a leg :)

goatman said...

"video removed" ?
Aliaa Elhmahdy would be disappointed, maybe.

munzz said...

The writer criticizes people who give golshifte credit for the message behind the video, and she rightly points out that the video is done by a group of 35 actors and actresses along with a production team so the credit does not fully belong to golshifteh. Well said. However, she then criticizes golshifte's timing as the release of her video/photo coincides with farhadi's win at the golden globe. The writer bluntly ignores the fact she herself mentions earlier, which is this is not golshifteh's production, therefore decisions such as the release date is out of her control. This is another half complete 'in vaghtesh nabood' excuse that we hear all the time from the politically correct apologetic pseudo-intellectuals who are always undermining our freedom of choice and action in order to be overly compliant with an unjust and cruel regime.

Naj said...

Munzz,

Thanks for your review.

I think I have to be clear and revise the article (which this is not, as it is just a quick note) to point my criticism to "the fact of this photo-op being taken out of context"

there are three issues here:

1) this is a video production; this is not Farahani's political act. As such there are MEDIA players who have chosen the theme and the timing of the video. I criticize the fact that the Iranian community (whether pro or against Farahani's 'person') are NOT considering the media-production dynamycs into account and treat this as a "personal choice political deed originated BY Farahani".

2) the timing of this video has implications for the cinema industry in Iran. IF this was a political act by Farahani, she ought to have considered the greater good of the community that is making MAJOR progress in circumventing the Iranian regime. She has compromised a cause; has done so based on the impulsive characteristincs of a sensational generation who cannot wait to get gratification; success and fame has to come to them "now".

3) this video is not related to Iran per se. There is an actor who is hired or selected to play a "ROLE" the role of "embodying your imaginations". She is selected to be the "exotic other" and she has agreed to be the exotic other. As Abbas Maroofi has written, she only needs to be criticized or praised in the position of an actor: did she fill the role well or not. any other political or moralistic, or even worse, feminist reading into this is utterly simplistic and ignorant.


As a woman, I see AS MUCH DANGER in politics that promotes the power of the naked body (which is not really politics but economics, naked pretty actors SELL and serve as good propaganda props) as there is in the (e.g. Islamic) politics that promotes covering and concealing a powerful body.

My problem is, that if it is the 'emancipation' of the Iranian female flesh that is exciting the cheerleaders of Farahani's act, then why were they silent when a few Iranians dropped their shirts in support of Aalia? And, if it is the identity of women that they are trying to tie to her body, then why should this come from a cinema-star-body?

I am questioning the exploitative nature of this whole business; and I maintain, Farahani is just a little impulsive ambitious kid with little intellect and even less talent--but she is a representative of a generation whose pastime is getting nose jobs done!

Naj said...

Munzz,

JUST TO CORRECT YOU:

I don't think it is OK at ANY time to tie body-representation to politics, neither in Iran, nor in America. Focusing on FArahani's boobs is JUST as wrong as is focusing on Palin's boob-job.

Body-image has NO PLACE in politics, shoudl have no place in politics. it is DANGEROUS!

Naj said...

Dear all, here's a few other thoughts:
http://iranfacts.blogspot.com/2012/01/followup-accidental-heroism-of.html

goatman said...

Wow . . . that's hard!!

Too bad she doesn't measure up to your intellectual standards. I thought it was a dynamic move from where I sit in the land of tits and ass.

Pedestrian said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zCXoSbvAeMA&feature=player_embedded

aaaaaaaaaaaaah!!!! See the way he says "khaneyeh sinamayeh monhal" ... as if what she did justifies the closing of Khaneyeh Sinama. I don't know who I want to punch more, the bastard reporter or the selfish bitch in the photo. (definitely IRIB who censors hand holding but is willing to show this photo for its own propaganda purposes). But this tormenting of actors and cinema people makes me SO ANGRY with her. Salahshour is dancing all the way to the friggin' Beyteh Agha.

Admin Services said...

Your article was informative. It shows the culture of the arab countries.

Naj said...

Admin Services;

Iran is not an Arab country. It is a muslim country, but not Arab.

I am sorry my article did not inform you of that fact ;)