Daily life in Iran can be a violent place for women. Such is the case for Hanieh, the 25-year old teacher and protagonist in the Iranian film “Paradise.”
“Paradise,” which premiered Thursday at the Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland, follows Hanieh’s journey in Tehran, where she lives with her married sister and commutes long hours each day to get to work. Hanieh tries with little success to get shifted to a school inside of Tehran. Exhausted by the two-faced reality she experiences every day, Hanieh struggles to find a way out of her conditions.
Director Sina Ataeian Dena says the film is about the role violence plays in all human life.
“All of us experience violence in daily life to some extent–it is like a ghost here and there, in every human society more or less, it seems like a natural part of life for this species, human beings,” said Dena. “We carry it out. We are all victims of it–obvious or hidden–to some degree, so we reproduce it and release it. Identification with a society’s values, social patterns, structures and morals play a role in how violence is acted out. “Paradise” is a film about this ‘ghost.'”
Producers Yousef Panahi and Amir Hamz commented the film is a collaboration of up-coming Iranian artists.
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“We shot under difficult conditions without any financial support, yet our main focus was on not compromising anything that is written in the script,” they said in a statement. “We are delighted to see how trust in each other and the cooperation with some new-wave Iranian artists resulted in this film.”
Below, Dena expanded on crafting Hanieh’s journey in “Paradise.”
“Paradise” follows Hanieh, a young school teacher in Iran–what’s her story?
Hanieh floats like a sleepwalker through her daily life. She suffers from the various social roles she has to play in a society that limits her. The only way out seems to be a depressive, indifferent mode that shields her from her environment. Hanieh makes some effort to bring change to her situation. In the end, she is unaware of the part she herself plays in this circle that she is suffering from.
The film seems to primarily focus on Iranian women and young girls. Is there a specific message there?
In a larger frame, the film tries to discuss the concept of violence in a society. I chose a female protagonist who works in a girls’ primary school because the focus on women and young girls provides good potential to explain the mechanism and functions of violence in every day life. Females in society–not only in Iran–see themselves more likely to be victims just by gender. This set up also allows reflection on how violence is passed on and preserved from generation to generation. But this phenomenon of violence and how it is acted out and reproduced in society is not only an Iranian topic, it’s rather universal and exists in any human society, more or less.
What do you think “Paradise” can tell the world about Iran?
The goal was to have a proper and informative document from today’s Iran. To show a part or a face of modern Iran not in a documentary, but in a fiction film that works as a document that hopefully might also be interesting for next generations who want to look back and understand. In the same way, “Paradise” can work for a world-wide audience.
What was the atmosphere like during filming?
We were a very small team but worked very efficiently together. We shot this film for more than three years, so we really got to know each other and became almost like a family. Part of the time we even lived together. I guess you can feel this spirit, that we really worked hand-in-hand and really trusted each other, in the film.
What was the most difficult part of making “Paradise?”
It was difficult that we had very little money for the production so we had to find creative solutions to get what we needed. It was important to me to not compromise anything that is written in the script.