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The Joy of Madness

A curious making-of shot by 14-year-old Hana Makhmalbaf, "The Joy of Madness" shows the trials and tribulations Hana's sister Samira faced in casting her Afghanistan-set film "At Five in the Afternoon." Besides making a good extra for Samira's eventual DVD, it will undoubtedly circulate through venues as an intro to the teenage helmer.

A curious making-of shot by 14-year-old Iranian Hana Makhmalbaf, “The Joy of Madness” shows the trials and tribulations Hana’s sister Samira faced in casting her Afghanistan-set film “At Five in the Afternoon.” Emphasizing the fear and ambivalence the non-pro Afghans felt at the mere idea of appearing in a movie, docu gives a strong sense of the long road ahead facing a people still psychologically oppressed by years of Taliban rule. Besides making a good extra for Samira’s eventual DVD, it will undoubtedly circulate through venues like the Venice Critics’ Week as an intro to the teenage helmer.

Despite her youth, Hana has grown up on her father Mohsen’s, step-mother Marziyeh Meshkini’s and sister Samira’s sets — part of the family’s Makhmalbaf Film House production company — and is also a published painter, photographer and poet. Allowing for this kind of intense artistic grooming and family coaching, “Joy” has a personality of its own which some viewers might even take as a bit critical of the strong-arm tactics Samira uses to convince her reluctant would-be actors to sign on the dotted line. Hana obviously has a strong will, too, for example, when she ignores her sister’s order to stop taping.

Turning her youth and sex to greatest advantage, the filmmaker, with her small DV cam, seems invisible to everybody she’s filming. People asked to participate in “At Five in the Afternoon,” (which competed at Cannes this year) plead they could never be in a movie, while Hana cuts to a telling close-up and no one protests.

Intercut with views of dusty post-war Kabul are three painfully difficult attempts at casting.

The first shows Samira teaching an old man how to drive a horse-drawn buggy and then, when he reneges on his promise to appear in the film because he’s a mullah (cleric), her angry insistence that he honor his word.

The longest part concentrates on how Samira courts school teacher Agheleh Rezaei to play the female lead in “Five.” This articulate, educated woman hesitates till the last shot, worried what neighbors will say and whether she’ll lose her job.

Finally, the casting of a sick baby and homeless refugees brings the film into the thick of Afghan poverty and ignorance. People warn the baby’s father the filmmakers will kill his child — although they are seen in the docu bringing food and a doctor to treat it.

Professionally edited by Mastaneh Mohajer and exotically scored by Mohammad Reza Darvishi, film reaches moments of exhilarating comic chaos, with shouting matches and police intervention. It is an eye-opening if affectionate portrait of Samira shooting her third feature after “The Apple” and “Blackboards,” a heavily made-up, glamorous young Iranian of radical feminist views who seems light years away from the simple Kabul folk she lectures to.

The Joy of Madness

Iran

  • Production: A Makhmalbaf Film House production. (International sales: Wild Bunch, Paris.) Produced by Mohsen Makhmalbaf. Directed, written by Hana Makhmalbaf.
  • Crew: Camera (color, DV), Makhmalbaf; editor, Mastaneh Mohajer; music, Mohammad Reza Darvishi. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (Critics Week), Aug. 27, 2003. Running time: 73 MIN.
  • With: <b>With:</b> Samira Makhmalbaf, Agheleh Rezaei, Agheleh Farahmand, Bibigol Saef, Sima Asef, Haji Rahmodin, Azizola Vakil, Kaveh Moeinfar, Marziyeh Meshkini, Mohsen Makhmalbaf.