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SUNDANCE 2020 World Cinema Dramatic Competition

Massoud Bakhshi • Director of Yalda, a Night for Forgiveness

"The world is torn between a rich minority that wants everything, and a majority that has nothing"

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- Iranian filmmaker Massoud Bakhshi discusses Yalda, a Night for Forgiveness, a majority European production recognised in Sundance and on its way to the Berlinale

Massoud Bakhshi  • Director of Yalda, a Night for Forgiveness

Revealed in the Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes in 2012 with A Respectable Family [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
, Iranian director Massoud Bakhshi made a strong impression at the 36th Sundance Film Festival where Yalda, a Night for Forgiveness [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Massoud Bakhshi
film profile
]
, his second feature film, won the Grand Jury Prize in the World Cinema Dramatic competition. Sold by Pyramide and produced by French company JBA together with Germany, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Iran and Lebanon, the film will soon be shown in the Generation section of the 70th Berlinale (20 February-1 March).

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Cineuropa: Where did you get the idea for Yalda, a Night for Forgiveness? To what extent were you inspired by reality?
Massoud Bakhshi: The initial idea for the film comes from documentaries about women convicted for murdering their husband. I come from documentary filmmaking, and these films really touched me. Social realism is very present in Iranian cinema. When I was writing then rewriting the script, I was talking to many lawyers and experts and I learned a lot about the law and the situation of these women.

What fascinated you about forgiveness and revenge? How did you want to tackle this topic?
It’s a rather common subject in Iranian society. Most murders and crimes of passion occur among disadvantaged social classes and convicts often try to obtain forgiveness from the victims’ families. But they do not have the means to pay blood money, which is what we call the money that the person convicted has to pay to the family if they are forgiven. Consequently, the elite, NGOs, activists and journalists, film stars and famous athletes try to raise this money from their benefactors, in order to promote a culture of forgiveness. And the judicial system, too, wants to reduce the number of executions.

The question of class difference between the two main characters emerges progressively during the film. Why did you want to explore this theme as well?
This problem is very important and relevant in current Iranian society, and it is also a universal theme throughout the world. I think that the world is torn between a rich minority that wants everything, and a majority that has nothing, that is enraged and looking for justice and equality. We live in a world where a Danish person can travel in more than 100 countries without a visa, while an Afghan or Iraqi person can only go to three or four countries with their passport.

How did you handle the intensely emotional register of the topic and the rhythm of the film?
I worked on the script for more than four years. And with the actresses, we rehearsed many events from their characters’ backstory, so that they could embody them as well as possible.

What were your main intentions in terms of mise-en-scene, cinematography and sound?
I knew that it would be difficult to make a single-location film work without maintaining harmonious rhythm and mise-en-scene. I divided the script between the scenes set on the recording stage and those backstage, and I knew that I would have to film them in two different styles. The show is very bright and colourful, while backstage is dark and with dull, dead colours. The director of photography and I tried to find the right lights and movements. We also shot the backstage TV documentary before the main shoot, which was good preparation for the lead actress and the team.

What was the process like for finding funding for the film? Very long and complicated. Because my first film was banned in my country, it was impossible to find funding in Iran. In Europe, it isn’t easy to find funding for a film largely in a foreign language, with a largely Iranian cast and crew and set to be filmed only in Iran, because there are no co-production deals with this country. It took my producers two years to find partners and to gather the necessary funds for the film.

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(Translated from French)

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