Gradually, we learn that Jalal has served time in prison and can’t get a job; he is surly and brutal but holds back from visiting his fury on the children he is trying to dump.
“I think he’s got a deep emotion and love for the family but he’s fighting it,” says Mirkarimi. The longer he spends with the children, the less likely it is that he can leave; he may have behaved reprehensibly, but the director finds sympathy with him. “My interest was to see what was it his wife loved so much, even to the point of death. There must have been something there.”
In spite of the sanctions that are affecting all areas of life, there seem to be a real interest in expanding the film industry.
Mirkarimi has been making films for 30 years. There are two reasons, he says, why Iranian cinema has set such store by children. “It’s a long story, starting with the Revolution,” he says. “During the ’80s, the filmmakers were trying to avoid all the new restrictions that might cause problems and censorship. Also, there was a sudden rise in the birth rate in that decade, so there was a big market for children’s films.” As those children grew up, so did their stories. Now there are only a couple of films a year made for children, but they continue to dominate the screen.
The revolutionary rules around cinema are actually less restrictive than they used to be, says Mirkarimi. Everything shown in public must be licenced by a committee of censors. Castle of Dreams was not cut, despite objections from the police who demanded after a festival screening that a scene in which Jalal successfully bribes a highway patrol officer be redacted. “We didn’t have any direct negotiations on this; the opinion was published in a newspaper,” says Mirkarimi. “I wrote a reply, also in the newspaper, to say that if a system can’t accept there are problems, then you can never solve them; corruption will just get worse.” The film was distributed intact.
Other restrictions limit what audiences can see. Until recently, only films made in Iran could be shown in cinemas. Worthy foreign films – Oscar winners, for example, cut to the ruling standards of decency – were shown only on television. “This law was good in a way because it protects Iranian cinema, but bad in that it prevents you seeing other people’s work,” Mirkarimi says. A year ago, the government set aside a few theatres for those foreign award-winners. People don’t go – that’s not what they expect to see in the cinema – but it’s a discernible change.
Travelling around festivals, Mirkarimi is constantly asked how he can function as an artist in such a restrictive system. “They ask ‘how do you produce films with all those difficulties?’ ‘How do you even live there?’ And OK, there are lots of problems but it’s not the image people have,” he says. “In spite of the sanctions that are affecting all areas of life, there seem to be a real interest in expanding the film industry. Cinema capacity has doubled in the last 10 years and they are still building more. And each year, over the last 10 years there have been 30 new directors able to make their first film. Every year!” No other country, he says, can match that. “And that is an opportunity.”
The Iranian Film Festival runs from October 31 to November 6. For the full program and participating cinemas, go to iffa.net.au