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'I Can't Stand It Anymore': Prominent Iranian Filmmaker Blasts State Censorship


Renowned Iranian director Dariush Mehrjuyi (file photo)

Iranian filmmaker Dariush Mehrjui is no stranger to state censorship.

The prominent director has had to fight restrictions during his decades-long career, first under the one-party state of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and then under the current theocratic regime, which has enforced stricter censorship rules on artists and their work.

Yet, a decision by authorities to prevent the screening of his latest film appears to have been the last straw for the 82-year-old.

In an unprecedented video posted online on March 6, Mehrjui publicly blasted the suppression of the film industry and warned that he would stage a protest at Iran’s Culture Ministry.

In 2019, the ministry issued a screening permit for Mehrjui’s film, La Minor, a drama about a young Iranian female musician.

But Mohammad Reza Faraji, an official at Iran’s Cinema Organization, was quoted by Iranian media on March 5 as saying that the permit for La Minor had expired and the film could not premiere as planned during Norouz, the Persian New Year that is celebrated on March 21.

Faraji claimed that there was “no problem” for La Minor to receive a new permit.

'A Ghost Behind The Scenes'

But the decision sparked the fury of Mehrjui, who posted an emotional video on social media.

“This is the screening permit for my latest movie, La Minor,” he said, clutching the document. “This is not milk or meat for you to say it has expired. You issued me a screening permit. Why do you break your promise?”

“Like a ghost behind the scenes, you issue judgements,” added Mehrjui, who is considered a pioneer of Iranian cinema. “I cannot stand it. I will protest at the Culture Ministry with my assistants. I won’t give up until I get my right.”

“Respected [culture] minister, listen to me, I can’t take it anymore,” he said. “I want to fight [back]. Kill me, do whatever you want with me…destroy me, but I want my right.”

The video prompted an outpouring of support for Mehrjui, who is best known for his 1969 masterpiece, The Cow. The film was banned by Iran’s shah for a year after its release. The movie was praised by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic republic.

The Association of Iran’s Film Directors said in a statement on March 7 that Mehrjui’s video was “the most bitter movie of Iranian cinema.”

“Where were the radical censors when The Cow by Mehrjui laid the foundations for the new Iranian cinema,” the statement said, adding that the movie was the “savior of post-revolutionary” film.

Mehrjui had become “the voice of the entire Iranian cinema community,” the association added, saying it supported Mehrjui and other film directors who had endured censorship and bans.

Dariush Mehrjui's The Cow (1969) is considered to have been a pivotal work in the Iranian New Wave.
Dariush Mehrjui's The Cow (1969) is considered to have been a pivotal work in the Iranian New Wave.

The statement said authorities should renew the screening permit for La Minor and put an end to the practice of reviewing already issued licenses.

“Shame on us,” female Iranian director Manijeh Hekmat wrote on Twitter. “I cried for [Iran’s] cinema and [for] seeing you in such a state. I’m ashamed.”

Habib Ilbeigi, another official at Iran’s Cinema Organization, said La Minor was not banned and there was no “obstacle” for its release in the future. He said he did not understand the reason for “the fuss.”

“Mehrjui is one of the veterans of [Iranian] cinema and is respected by all of us,” Ilbeigi said, adding that “we have told the film producer that there’s no problem with the movie’s screening license.”

Mehrjui has not responded to the remarks.

History Of Censorship

Censorship was common under the shah. But the restrictions placed on the film industry were further tightened following the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

Mehrjui, who moved to France following the revolution and returned to Iran in 1985, told The New York Times in a 1991 interview that state censorship remained unchanged.

“I realized it was the same old story,'' Mehrjui said. ''Nothing had changed. It is a characteristic of all revolutions: the domination of a single ideology that cannot stand criticism.''

Several of Mehrjui’s movies were banned under the shah as well as the Islamic republic, including his 2007 drama, Santoori, which was banned apparently due to its depiction of a musician addicted to drugs.

Iranian filmmakers must follow tight censorship rules that forbid showing unveiled women, physical contact between men and women, and criticism of Islamic principles. The strict restrictions limit the topics that can be discussed in movies.

Many filmmakers steer well clear of politics in favor of social issues. But artists who fall afoul of such guidelines have been persecuted, including in some cases being sentenced to prison terms.

Yet, Iranian filmmakers have managed to produce movies that are universally acclaimed and have won many awards.

Those banned inside the country are accessible on the black market and online.

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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL focusing on Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is the author of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.

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