World War III Director Houman Seyyedi on Balancing Absurdity and Tragedy in Film – The Hollywood Reporter

Those whose experience of Iranian cinema is limited to the social realism and lyrical fables of Abbas Kiarostami and Asghar Farhadi may be shocked by Houman Seyedi. World War III, Iran’s official entry for this year’s Best International Feature Oscar. The film, which premiered in Venice where it won the prize for best film at the Horizons Sidebar, is a mashup of genres: part social drama, part thriller, part satire of the absurd film industry. Mohsen Thanabande was named Best Actor in Venice Horizons as Shakib, a man still traumatized by the loss of his wife and son in a devastating earthquake years earlier, and finds some pickup work as an extra in World War II. II movie. When the film’s star suffers a heart attack, the director asks Shakib to step in as Adolf Hitler. Things seem to be looking up for Shakib, but another tragedy soon sends him over the edge. Director Seyyadi spoke THR How he feels about his main character and the challenge of balancing comedy and tragedy.

Howman Seyyadi

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The comic absurdity at the center of the film – the idea that this workman was cast as Adolf Hitler in a Persian version of a Holocaust film – sets World War III Unlike most Iranian films of the moment, these are strictly realistic dramas.

you are right In recent years, most films coming out of Iran are social commentary and have a very realistic approach to storytelling. But like anywhere else in the world, filmmakers here are trying to explore other avenues, to see if we are capable of telling stories in other genres. I think cinema is very much alive in Iran as it is everywhere in the world. We try to be influenced by the events that surround us and our films are a reaction to those events.

Is this film a response to any specific event within Iran?

I really tried to make this film come from a deep place in my heart, but naturally, when you come from a country like Iran, you always try to choose to be on the side of the people. A lot of filmmakers in Iran are pro-people. And I am no exception. I try to get inspiration from what happened around us like financial situations, how to cope with the hardships of fulfilling my father and mother’s days. That inspiration gives way to telling the story I want to do.

I understand that it is difficult for directors inside Iran to speak openly about the conditions there. But has the process of making films in Iran changed under the new government?

Well, this is nothing new. During the previous governments, I was restricted from working. But I think there is a kind of war [between directors and] Government is pointless and unnecessary. Cinema is powerful, and has shown that it has the ability to develop and grow. I have seen in the past banning filmmakers and so on. I hope it will work itself out eventually. But I can only really speak for myself. This [banning] It can happen to me and I find myself among those struggling to pay the bills. We were lucky to make this film without any government support – the financing came from private investors and a privately owned streaming platform in Iran.

How do you view your main character Shakib, played by Mohsen Thanabande? He sometimes seems ridiculous and tragic, and then, almost monstrous.

I don’t see him as a monster. When we first meet him, I see him as a man who has accepted what life has dealt him. He lost his home and his family in the earthquake and he wants nothing more. But then, due to the shooting of the film, he gets a chance to live in a better house, he gets this girlfriend who is like a surrogate wife. Perhaps there is a discussion about having a child with her. Suddenly he realized he could have those things again. When it got away from him, [that] He becomes like a madman who does terrible things.

You could almost say that hope kills him.

No, I don’t say that. That is not the message of the film. On the contrary, I believe hope is what keeps you alive. But circumstances kill hope. His circumstances rob him of that hope. But still hope is what keeps people alive. That is something I believe deep in my heart.

A film-within-a-film, this World War II tale with Shakib playing an almost Chaplin-like Hitler adds absurdity to a truly tragic story. Is it hard to keep it balanced?

I set several red lines during production. I didn’t want my film to be a kind of behind-the-scenes, making-of-style film about this absurd film. But when we show elements of this film within the film, I want the fakeness of it to be very prominent. I have tried to show how absurd this picture-within-a-picture is. The director making it is an old man who thinks he’s making an authentic, depressing portrayal of World War II and the Holocaust. He does not understand the incredible picture he is actually making. His first assistant director knows the woman, she sees what’s going on. She keeps showing how fake and silly everything is. One of the extras also notes how clumsy and comical the film is. It’s going to be a really brutal movie – definitely not the movie the director envisioned.

It was a very thin line for me and a little scary, because events like the gas chamber scene in the movie—within the movie—are scary. That’s not something you laugh at. But making it scary served the story of our film well.

What do you hope international audiences will take away from this film?

To be honest, I don’t know how international audiences will react. I hope I can be a good representative of Iranian cinema and honor the team that worked incredibly hard to make this film. We spent three months shooting in very difficult conditions in northern Iran, building everything from scratch. It’s incredibly exciting to see the film actually finished and going out into the world.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

This story first appeared in the December stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, Click here to subscribe.

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