Monday 23 April 2018

Interview with Masoud Kimiai

Originally published in 2014 on Keyframe in conjunction with Edinburgh International Film Festival's retrospective on Iranian New Wave. -- EK

Masoud Kimiai (born 1941)

In his home country, he is the most popular filmmaker of his generation. Elsewhere, his ultra-masculine dramas of camaraderie, revenge and male bonds are rarely seen, and if seen, hardly appreciated. He's never been an international film festival darling.

He contributed to the birth if a "different cinema" in Iran by making the rape/revenge thriller Qeysar (1969). His other key film, The Deer (1974), keeps appearing triumphantly in Iranian polls, often winning the title of "the best film in the history of Iranian cinema."

Kimiai makes no bone about his love for classical Hollywood and genre cinema. He grew up going to Tehran's second run cinemas which were mostly playing westerns and crime films. A decade later and before tuning director, he assisted a visiting Hollywood pro, Jean Negulesco, during the shoot of a co-production (The Invincible Six). In a sense, Kimiai's cinema since the 1960s has been a persistent and relentless reinterpretation of the American films he has loved in his youth and trying to marry that, sometimes with stunning results, to a politically-conscious cinema.

He answered my questions on a piece of paper. He loves real, physical things: papers, wrist watches, and hats. The answers are not necessarily responding to the questions but then they might be even more interesting.

Kimiai (centre) directing Behrouz Vosoughi (left) and Jamsheed Mashayekhi in Qeysar.

  • How conscious were you about the New Wave while making your “new wave” film?

My views on cinema in those days were completely different from the common understanding of cinema in Iran. Still, when I finished making Qeysar, I couldn't imagine the effect it would have on society. When it comes to people or critics' reaction to a work, nothing can be anticipated.

The truth is that no conscious, pre-planned movement would ever work in cinema -- some spontaneity is always needed. But it is true that I couldn’t see myself as a part of the Iranian cinema of that period. Things were ready for me. The zeitgeist, the prominent literary figures [who were around] and the genuine film experts who [all] came and supported me with Qeysar and everything I made afterwards. A history which is waiting to be changed or re-written by a film becomes the agent of the change itself. It moulds and then it gets moulded. Many luminary figures who have made history have mentioned the right timing for such change. I am my own witness in that regard.

  • Do you think the so called New Wave films could make a change, cinematically and socially?

There is no doubt that these films were like a bit of fresh air for our cinema. No film can beg or plead for its immortality. The power should come from within the work.

  • Five decades later, where would you put Qeysar in your career and also in the larger context of Iranian cinema?

Still when I watch it, which is becoming rarer these days, I admire its boldness, especially its boldness in form which was never repeated [in Iranian cinema] because it was dictated by the time and the unique social and cultural milieu in which it was made. If a film is not made at its proper time and place, it becomes a pitiful thing. One hits the bull's eye only when the time's ripe.

  • Your cinematic influences?  

My kind of cinema was the “movie theatre” kind, not the “film study” kind. Later, theories arrived to clarify but first and foremost, it was what we saw onscreen that made the difference and was absorbed in our minds. I learned my trade from watching westerns, learned my editing lessons from the movie serials of Republic. Learned my editing, framing and acting by watching the films of Anthony Mann, Vincent Sherman, Fred Zinnemann (almost anything he made except [the dreadful] Oklahoma), Sam Fuller and Raoul Walsh.

The cinema of Ingmar Bergman and Alain Resnais didn't have the familiar faces of the people on the streets. Of course, admiring filmmakers [vs. being influenced by them] was another matter: Antonioni and his invisible tennis ball; Visconti; Fellini of 8 ½ and many more, they were not ours but we made them ours. We were fast-learners. And the more humane the films, the faster they were becoming part of us.

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