Iranian director Vahid Jelilvand says the protests have led to an ‘irreversible’ change of spirit: ‘People are fighting for their inalienable rights’

Iranian director Vahid Jelilvand’s psychological thriller Beyond the Wall, which premiered in competition at the Venice Film Festival, was described in diverse The review as “a pathologically violent allegory of the effects of state-sponsored trauma on the individual that places contemporary Iranian society somewhere on the map between the sixth and seventh circles of hell”.

Since the film’s premiere, protests have erupted in Iran following the killing of Mahsa Amini, and have been met with brutal violence by the state. Gelfand says diverse It is difficult to determine the outcome of the turmoil via a video link from Tehran, but he adds: “The thing I am sure of is that Iran will not go back to what it was three months ago, before these protests started. It will not go back. People have acquired a spirit of struggle for their rights that is not disposable, and that won’t come back — it’s irreversible now. But at the end of the day, it’s hard to say if there was a significant shift or a positive outcome.”

When asked if a direct line could be drawn between the film’s story and the situation in Iran, he replied: “As [French philosopher] Lucien Goldman says: “ No text written by a writer can be considered without considering the context in which the writer lives, and the writer’s surroundings, so naturally this film is also affected by my surroundings. But what I’ve been trying to do is send this message out to everyone. I was looking more for a universal message by which anyone anywhere on earth experiencing this kind of despair could be encouraged to save themselves through their dreams, and the hope they may have.

“beyond the wall”

“But naturally in a country like Iran, where we have a totalitarian regime, it is more tangible to someone living in such a society, and one cannot ignore the realities of living in such a society. So, I was naturally affected by this in writing this, but what What I hope to do is that this can be global, not just pertaining to Iranian society.”

The film opens with Ali (played by Navid Mohammadzadeh), who despairs of life, and attempts suicide. His method seems reminiscent of a torture chamber – he wraps a wet shirt around his head, ties a plastic bag over it, and pushes his hands down behind the shower pipe. But he came back from the brink by knocking on his apartment door.

When Ali tears the bag and heads for the door, the doorman informs him that a woman is on the run from the police, and may be hiding in the apartment building. When the man leaves, it becomes clear to the viewer that the fugitive, Leila (played by Diana Habibi), has managed to enter the apartment. However, Ali does not see her because he is almost completely blind. In the end, he finds out about Leila, but decides to help her.

“beyond the wall”

Laila was traumatized after she attended a gathering of workers who were demanding their unpaid wages. The protest turned into a riot, which was brutally suppressed by the police. In this chaos, Laila, who is prone to epileptic seizures when stressed, is separated from her young son, Taha, and subsequently arrested. Hysterical with worry for her abandoned baby, Lila causes an accident and flees the police who are now determined to get her back.

When Gellifand was writing the script for the film, he wrote on a chalkboard: “The only thing that can help us endure this prison is love.” Ali and Laila are imprisoned due to the circumstances. However, through their relationship, they are able to achieve some form of redemption.

For Gellifand, this is a story that audiences everywhere can identify with. “Modern human beings are confined to a cell of their own world, and at any given moment, with the different kinds of pressure we have, we may think to ourselves what an unfortunate situation it is, what an unfortunate life we ​​are living, and we may think: Why are we living this life so why are we in this situation? But Only love can revive that hope and recreate a sense of hope to continue.”

Gellifand says he heard from viewers almost unanimously that they were able to identify with Leila, and that’s what he intended. He wanted members of the public to feel her suffering so that they could suffer with her, he said.

The audience’s familiarization with the character may have been achieved through the form of representation adopted. Gellivand did not want Habibi to star in the film, but instead wanted him to “become” Laila. “Sometimes it’s not possible to really become the character because of mental or physical limitations, but what I saw here was that Diana was smart enough and instinctive enough to really become that character, Lily,” he says.

Wahid Jelilvand at the Venice Film Festival (Courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia/ASAC/G. Zucchiatti)

Over the course of more than a year and a half, the director instructed Habibi to complete a series of exercises through which she adopted the character of Laila. “During that time, she had the ability to completely become that persona; she had, in effect, become another human being.

“It was a risk, and it caused a lot of suffering for her and the team in general. It was a strange experience and throughout this entire time from the time she started until a month after filming ended, there was constantly a therapist on hand with the team to make sure Layla stayed in character. To make her stay Layla for the duration of the shoot.

“Fortunately no harm was done to Diana herself. And on screen we see the result – it really is as if she were someone else. It’s not the Diana we see.”

Gellivand’s method stems from his experience as a documentary filmmaker. “I’ve come to realize that no matter how good the acting is often times the audience knows it’s an actor, and the character doesn’t interact with people like a different human being, like a real human being,” he says. But, on the other hand, in documentaries, I always felt that it was very easy for a real person to interact with the audience. The connection was very real and for me, my past in making documentaries made it interesting to see if I could really create something like this. The real person in a story can communicate and interact with the audience.”

The film cannot be shown in Iran, although it is not officially banned. “Unfortunately, the current cultural officials in Iran are not brave enough to ban the film,” he says. “They’re not brave enough to sit down and watch the movie, and find the points they disagree with, or the criticisms they might have of the movie.

“At the moment, everything is moving forward in silence. They don’t give permits to show films, they don’t ban films. It shows their cowardice in a way. They are not brave enough to say anything officially, so nothing is officially said about the film, but they send Messages through indirect channels stating that this film cannot be shown now.

He does not have a new movie planned at present. I have some summaries from the past that I might want to work on, but I don’t want to write something in response to the current situation in Iran. I want things to settle in my mind, and then I can start working on something new.”

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