Noces Ephemeres

by HRM on November 9, 2011

Interview with director Reza Serkanian, by Franziska Knupper

Noces EphemeresIn his new movie Noces Éphémères, coming out in French movie theaters on the 9th of November, the director Reza Serkanian paints a picture of the traditional, the new, the desperate, the hopeful Iran.

Those colors! A man who washes his face with red sand, a mosque shimmering green at night! Women with flowery head-scarfs, women with dark sparkling eyes. Reza Serkanian has an eye for the detail, for the small gestures, for the hidden habits.

There are musicians playing in the backyard and small boys just recovering from their circumcision. There is a couple sneaking out to get closer, hidden underneath a staircase. A woman is preparing a water-pipe for her husband, standing at the open window. It is a dark night at a country house in Iran. A house without doors and without windows but with a huge family; with uncles, grandmothers and plenty of cousins.

Director Reza Serkanian invites us to come in and explore, to wander around the different rooms and experience an Iran of celebration, of grief and secrets. The first part of the movie is a journey to the sounds, the customs and the mentalities of the Iranian people. Serkanian depicts a family’s everyday life that is suddenly shaken by the unexpected death of the grandfather.

“That is the movie’s turning point. For the funeral the family has to go from the country to the city, meaning into society with all its restraints”, Reza Serkanian explains. The group enters a world with rigid policemen, with foreign journalists and unknown dangers. “I also had to transfer my grandfather’s coffin to another city”, Serkanian mentions. “Some parts of the movie I took from personal experience”.

In the movie, this is the moment when all the family complications are revealed. The uncle Aziz (Javad Taheri) sneaks out to drink disinfectant, the young protagonist Kazem (Hossein Farzi Zadeh) follows veiled girls on the street. He is driven by curiosity, frustration, longing.

Kazem’s secret admirations and carefully concealed fantasies start to break free. The results are imprisonement and a temporary marriage with his independent and unconventional sister-in-law, Maryam (Mahnaz Mohammadi).

In conservative Muslim countries, temporary marriages are a chance to escape isolation and celibacy while avoiding illegal extra-marital relationships. Yet in the film, this scene remains a slightly mystic element of the story – just as it remains discrete in Iranian society. The audience discovers an opposite side of the “woman issue” that is so often discussed in regards to theocratic countries. We experience the solitude of the young man growing up in a country where he is not allowed to touch a girl, to talk to her or even to see her. Thus, very soon Kazim observes Maryam’s every gesture. Just a glance at her foot or the touch of her hand become a matter of anxiety, tension and a question of principle.

Noces éphémères is a courageous movie: “It is hard to shoot a movie like that in a country like Iran. You can easily get arrested for it”, the producer Erwann Créac’h admits. Indeed this film examines a complex Muslim society that is driven by rigid gender roles, nostalgic superstition, suppressed sexuality and by the simplistic prejudices of the West.

It is also a movie of battling forces. It is about the fear of being detected and at the same time the appetite to taste liberty. It praises the unconditional loyalty within a family and bravely questions the oppressive threat of a state. A state that Serkanian left in 1997 in order to pursue a directing career not constantly strangled by authorization and censorship.

“But no matter how complicated that project was – I love crossing the borders, combining various origins and promote different cultures ”, Serkanian says. He contemplates for a moment: “I would like to show human relationships in all their complexity, their absurdity and fragility. I think we are all driven by very similar aspirations and dreams. No matter where we are.”

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