Art & Opposition

Golshifteh Farahani & the Iranian cinematic exile


Art & Opposition
by Ali Naderzad

Iran’s current regime is going through what psychologists term "acute anticipatory coping." Perceived threats coming from the artistic community get neutralized by an internal affairs machine on steroids, glassy-eyed henchmen and the true-to-life sound of “clang” as cell doors slam shut. The government is turning on its own, and artists, filmmakers and actors are feeling the pinch. Jafar Panahi, who was to sit on the jury at Cannes next month, is in a Tehran jail. And though he's among those the regime has so far repressed the most, he's not the only one feeling the pressure.

Bahman Ghobadi, director of Nobody Knows about Persian Cats, has left Iran; Mohsen Makhmalbaf, arguably Iran’s most famous filmmaker, set up shop in Afghanistan; and actor/musician Golshifteh Farahani exiled herself with her husband in France. We met one afternoon this month in Paris.

The first thing you notice about Farahani is her eyes. Big, intense, and a gaze that is at times uneasy. She wears almost no make-up—her only whim, a pair of fashionable sunglasses which she quickly removes after sitting down. I ask if she’s had time to enjoy the vibrant French cultural life, and she raves about a new play by Ariane Mnouchkine. But she also mentions being constantly on the road, working on a new film, her music or doing press meets. The conversation soon turns to the repression back in Tehran. Lately, the state’s new politique—which to the outsider appears like a game of cat and mouse—has proved more asphyxiating, and Farahani’s last few years in Tehran had become more dissatisfying. As she explains it, there’s a so-called paternal (and patronizing) aspect to the way Iranian intelligence services treat people like Farahani. It is possible to lead a semi-normal life in Tehran, but if you don’t check in with dad regularly, there are consequences. Interviews follow interrogations and appearances in court, ve have vays of making you talk, etc. “When you’re an artist,” she also tells me, “by definition you are part of the opposition movement.” Then she mentions the personality-altering effect of being put through the interrogation grinder. “There’s the you before, and then there’s the changed you, after.” It’s not brainwashing but a loss of humaneness.

Farahani left Iran 18 months ago to settle in France. Her French is correct, but she doesn’t seem overly enthused by her new surroundings. It might have to do with the fact that she’s constantly traveling and has only had about four months actually living here. “At that point, I was looking for some place to call my home,” she adds. “It didn’t really matter where it is.” But Farahani, whose husband is half French, is in good company. The diaspora that lives in Paris especially has included some of Iran’s best intellectuals and artists, a protracted but gradual exodus begun 50 years ago.

After 14 years and 19 films to her credit, Farahani made her entrée onto the European and American markets with Darbara-ye Eli, a narrative genre film which—perhaps due to its lack of political implications—was very well received at 2009 Tribeca Festival and earned a Silver Bear at Berlin.

She mentions to me the Hollywood premiere for Body of Lies, which she attended without wearing a head scarf. After the wires picked up the story, it was blogged, translated into Farsi and blogged about in Iran, creating a media zelzeleh (“earthquake,” in Farsi). Farahani mentioned to me emphatically that filmmaker Jafar Panahi was the only one who loudly proclaimed his support of her. Iranian authorities quickly assigned responsibility for the incident to a conspiracy by the media.

Two weeks ago, Cannes Festival president Gilles Jacob cautiously announced during his press conference that Jafar Panahi was invited to sit on the jury next month. The Quai d’Orsay echoed the invitation by issuing a statement asking for the filmmaker’s release as well. Farahani was moved when I brought his name up.

She last had spoken to Panahi eight months ago. He was ecstatic about having received an offer from Hollywood to turn a novel into a movie. Panahi being held at Evin prison again points to that syndrome currently exhibited by the Iranians: he is accused of being a threat to national security, but his documentary about the events of June 2009 has not even been done. “I hope jail is not going to change him. I’m very worried about that,” she tells me.

When I asked her if she thought of going back home to Iran, it was clear by her voice that she missed her country. But enjoying a perfectly free existence is exhilarating. Iranian authorities have engaged in conciliatory talks in the hopes of bringing her back into the country. But Farahani is undecided. In the next few months, she will be part of the jury at the Locarno Film Festival, and she has a number of role offers to choose from. “I don’t consider myself a political activist,” Farahani told me, “I try to say what I have to say through art.”

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Golshifteh is definately talented. 1st to break out to Hollywood

by Anonymouse on

She is the first Iranian actress in Iranian cinema after the revolution to break out into hollywood.  Shohreh Aghdashloo is another one but she never played a movie in Iran after 1979.

Her talent is playing what can be referred to as an Iranian version of a Tom Boy.  She has played numberous movies in Iran and has a strong fan base.  So much so that when she didn't return home after a backlash from the conservative media, Ahmadi invited her back.  Of course her response to Ahmadi was a big middle finger! 

Everything is sacred.



by dokhi on

Wake up people. She is a talentless, over-rated, media hype. she won't get any where. Mark my word.


Golshifteh is sorely missed in Iran. She's Iran's "sweetheart"!

by Anonymouse on

Everything is sacred.

Darius Kadivar

Food For Thought ...

by Darius Kadivar on

Anahid Hojjati

She is so beautiful and talented

by Anahid Hojjati on


She is beautiful and a talented actress. More power to her.



by yolanda on

I Hope she becomes the 2nd Iranian Oscar winner after Shohreh Aghdashloo!


Mashalah, Cheshmeh...

by PERS66 on

Cheshmeh hassod o badkah koor.



I hope

by iroooni on

she becomes really successful and wins an oscar so that the hasoods go blind. :)



by yolanda on

Thank you for the Farahani and Panahi update! I hope they can make a difference!



by iranvataneman on

Farahani has added her to the list of Iranian exiled celebrities that have failed to achieve success abroad. She expects to get oscar nominated films, and win major awards, but she has gone no where. She made a laughing stock of herself, she risked the positive and powerful reputation she had in Iran, just for gharbzadegi. Congradulations for failing :).