Bahman Farmanara and Today's Iranian Cinema

By Thom Fowler
Posted 05/27/01 14:50:29

Bahman Farmanara, writer, director and lead actor of the soon to be released "Smell of Camphor, Fragrance of Jasmine" plays a world weary director, Bahman Farjami, who is allowed to create a documentary after being banned from making movies by the Post-Revolutionary Censor Board for twenty years. The biographic similarities of the the director in the film and Mr. Farmanara end at this important point.
When I watched the film during the San Francisco International Film Festival, I thought I might have missed something veiled behind the cultural curtain. In a society with strict governmental censorship, could Mr. Farmanara be making a much more subtle comment to an Iranian audience? If I was going to present this film to an American audience, how could I possible frame a deeper appreciation for what this film means for not only an Iranian audience, but an international audience as well.

Mr. Farmanara left Iran for Canada in 1979 just after the Islamic Revolution. Prior to that, he was an award winning film maker and head of film production at the Iranian Film Industry Development Company where he oversaw films by new film makers and promoted the Iranian film industry throughout the rest of the world. In Canada, he ran a film distribution company and travelled frequently to Los Angeles. He returned to Iran many years later to head his family's textile company, a position he still holds today.

In Iranian culture, camphor is associated with death while jasmine brings to mind youth and vitality. The title of the film reflects Mr. Farmanara's dual awareness of both the death of his culture as a result of the religious totalitarianism that killed any open intellectual or aesthetic conversations and hope for its revitalization in the youth of his country. Since Mr. Farmanara can not say these things openly, he used the language of his culture to suggest a deeper story.

EfilmCritic Are you as tired as your character in the film?

No I am not tired at all. In fact my work day begins at five in the morning and I work 14 hours a day regularly. I am an optimist, otherwise I would not have submitted eleven scripts in ten years to the censorship board. The character in my film is more broken hearted rather tired. The obstacles challenge me and make me fight harder. For this reason, I also am the CEO of textile company, and teach a Master level course in University of Art. I do not have time to moan and groan, and if the cyclical depression catches up with me, I increase the dosages of Prozac and carry on.

EfilmCritic What is your vision for Iranian cinema?

The fact the 65% of my nation are below the age of 25, gives me an additional incentive to work harder in teaching them the value of freedom and properly exercising it to further solidify the roots of democracy in our country. I also want to give them hope for future, something that is a very rare
commodity in our country these days and because of it drug addiction is destroying many lives each day. I am not a politician and I do not want to be one, but I believe as a film-maker I have an obligation to teach while I try to entertain as well, and do not preach.

Was making this film a healing or cathartic experience for you?

Making this film really gave me the same kind of high that one get taking a gin and tonic after being on the wagon for twenty years. The pleasure was extreme, but it also it released tremendous amount of anger towards all the people that did not let me work for so long. I am too strong a character to consider myself a victim, but sadness of not creating makes you bitter, and this film helped me to get rid of large portion of that.

EFilmCritic Where do you see Iranian cinema today?

The fact that Iranian cinema has broken through the barriers of distribution monopoly of American Cinema, and has been seen and written about extensively, it is truly a miracle. But we also have the advantages that go with censorship! Bourges says, "Censorship is mother of all metaphors." I believe that the heavy handed censorship has forced us to look for new ways of expressing ourselves in the world cinema.
The similarity of what has happened to us and the Eastern European Cinema before the downfall of communism is very illuminating. Iranian cinema has presented the human face of our nation, which is rarely presented in the media that has created a black-hole out of my country. Hopefully this kind and gentle image will help a better understanding of our country and its people. But it is very difficult to follow our example in
other territories that their cinema is purely box office driven and leaves no room for exploring the immense possibility of films.

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