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Recalling Iran's Green protest days

Text by Jon FROSCH

Latest update : 2010-02-01

Hana Makhmalbaf’s “Green Days,” a tale of a young Iranian woman caught in a political storm after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's controversial June re-election, is one of the most politically explosive pieces of work shown at the 66th Mostra.

This year’s Venice Film Festival has featured movies about Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, the global economic crisis, and Berlusconi’s grip on Italian media. But the most politically explosive piece of work yet has undoubtedly been 21-year-old Iranian Hana Makhmalbaf’s “Green Days,” the first big-screen take on Iran’s disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Shown out of competition on Thursday, the independently financed film blends fiction and documentary to tell the story of Ava, a depressed young woman in Tehran caught up in the political commotion preceding the June 12 presidential election. Makhmalbaf uses this ripped-from-the-headlines angle to portray a traumatised country in which burgeoning forces of hope and change are met with repression and corruption. 

An intimate glimpse into a rarely seen Iran 

The movie’s most compelling stretches juxtapose scenes of impassioned supporters of Ahmadinejad’s main challenger, Mirhossein Mousavi, before and then after the vote. In an unusual narrative fusion, Makhmalbaf films her fictional protagonist wandering into actual “green" movement rallies (green being the colour adopted by Mousavi supporters) days before the election; amid a festive atmosphere of thumping techno beats, honking cars, and voices lifted in song, a rarely seen picture emerges of a young, idealistic Iran calling for a fresh start. 

“I wanted to be like a postman delivering the Iranian people’s message to the world,” Makhmalbaf - who is from a well-known filmmaking family - explained in an interview. She added that she also sought to hold that message up as a mirror for Iranians, “to show them the hope they had, to make them remember this hope so they can continue.” 

Indeed “Green Days” offers an intimate glimpse into the opposition movement, as Ava pauses to listen to various chanted slogans - from “Mousavi the hero” to “Anyone but Ahmadinejad” – and chats with citizens who articulate a range of grievances against their controversial president: inflation, newspaper banning, oppression of women, hostility toward the international community. 

The exuberance of the pre-election demonstrations – one young woman proclaims “Everyone is voting Mousavi!” – is contrasted with interspersed scenes that show post-election beatings of Mousavi supporters who took to the streets to protest the results. Makhmalbaf uses harrowing footage submitted by citizens who filmed the bloody police crackdown with mobile phones or personal cameras. 

Despite the violence, Makhmalbaf does not believe the “green” movement has been stamped out. “Every day, more people join the opposition,” she said. “If it continues, you’ll see Ahmadinejad and Khamenei holding guns on one side, and the Iranian people on the other.” 

The film closes with a blunt postscript stating that Mousavi won the election, but a Russia-supported coup kept the presidency in Ahmadinejad’s hands. Makhmalbaf says this is an increasingly common assessment in Iran. 

“Green Days” will be available to Iranians through satellite TV, and though Makhmalbaf has left Iran for safety reasons since ending production of the film, she is not ready to give up on her country. 

“History has written the story of Hitler and other dictators, and we’ve seen how they ended,” the filmmaker reflected. “History has also written the story of people who wanted democracy and freedom, and we’ve seen that their story only ends when they get what they want. So I am hopeful.”

Date created : 2009-09-11