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The idea of an Iranian director making a film in Israel is, itself, already rather extraordinary. For the filmmaker to once have been a zealous Islamist only makes the prospect more impressive.
But that’s basically the backstory of Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s The Gardener: the 55-year-old director was once a fundamentalist rebel during the times of the U.S.-backed Pahlevi dictatorship.
Today, Makhmalbaf is a changed man, with his past beliefs long given way to a liberal worldview. He now lives in exile in France after his vocal opposition against the ultra-conservative Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has arrested and detained many of the country’s filmmakers during his tenure.
The Gardener revolves around a visit by Makhmalbaf (playing a version of himself) and his son, Maysam, to the home of the Baha’i faith in Haifa. There, they engage in a sometimes heated conversation about religion, politics and cinema.
“I don’t [have to] find anything to change my mind,” said Makhmalbaf about his views towards Israel during a press conference introducing his gala-presentation entry at BIFF.
Both Iran and Israel have extremists, he added. “In Iran, when you say Jews are burnt [to death] in Germany [during World War II], they will cry,” he said. “But nowadays, under the propaganda of the Iranian regime, some people are extremely against Israel. They are afraid if Israel is to attack Iran, many Iranians will die. On the other side, Israelis say, ‘We have a narrow country — if Iran drops atomic bombs or sends rockets, we will die very soon.’”
The Gardener, Makhmalbaf said, was made to bridge the two cultures. “Just like the face of the soldier,” he said, referring to an image in the film. “He’s like a child, not an enemy. The film will make people more like friends.”
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