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MyFrenchFilmFestival: Spotlighting Swiss Doc ‘Before Summer Ends’ and Director Maryam Goormaghtigh

Goormaghtigh set out to make an immigration doc, but found a more universal story waiting to be told

Perhaps it was just wishful thinking, or lust for warmer temperatures, that was cause for organizers of this year’s MyFrenchFilmFestival to select so many summer-themed films for UniFrance’s annual Paris-based, and online streaming event. Or maybe there were just a lot of really good French-language films about summer over the last 18 months.

Maryam Goormaghtigh’s bromance road-trip “Before Summer Ends” is technically a documentary, but edited to look and feel like a fictional feature. It is a France-Switzerland co-production between Paris-based 4 A 4 Productions and Geneva’s Intermezzo Films. International distribution is being handled by Upside Distribution, with domestic responsibilities falling to Shellac.

The film follows three Iranian expats living in Paris, as one of them, Arash, prepares to go back to Iran, because he is struggling to acclimate to Parisian culture. In hopes of convincing him to stay, or perhaps more honestly as a final hoorah, his two best friends Hossein and Ashkan convince him to take one final road trip to the south of France, to show him a side of the country he’s never seen.

Along the way the three share poetry, flirt with waitresses, sleep under the stars and attend rural festivals. Eventually the three come across two free-spirited musicians, Charlotte and Michèle, and the earliest sparks of desire, the kind for which there is no possibility of anything long-term, start to burn.

Hossein, already happily married, cheers his friends on from the sidelines, until an unwelcome phone call from Iran rocks his world and forces him to make an unenviable decision.

The film had its European premiere at Cannes’s Acid showcase, was selected for Karlovy Vary, IDFA and London’s BFI Festival, and will have its Nordic premiere at this month’s Goteborg Festival, before heading to the Bertha Doc House in London, with additional stops forthcoming.

Goormaghtigh talked with Variety about the film, and her guiding principles when directing and working with non-professional actors.

You’ve said that you started filming these three friends four years ago. How much footage did you have to edit from?

It started as a film about them, and only later it became a film with them. At first, I was more interested in the subject of coming from a different country and knowing your mind and your heart may still be in Iran, but these buddies are here. I started like a documentary filmmaker just observing, but for the final movie, I had 70 hours of footage captured in two-and-a-half weeks on the road, and didn’t use any of the older footage.

Can you talk about the decision to include Charlotte and Michèle them as part of this story?

I love them; they are good friends. We made a little movie when they were 17 years old and 10 years later we wanted to do something else together. Charlotte loves big guys, and I told her I have a big Iranian friend, do you want to meet him for the movie I am making? I wanted the guys to meet girls on the road. The deal was, I had to organize a concert for the girls in the south of France, and in exchange Charlotte would meet my friend.

Far too often women filmmakers are only expected to make movies about women. What was it like doing this film all about the way male friends behave when they are alone?

When you are a girl you don’t always get access to male conversations, so I was like a little mouse, they forgot I was there completely because they were so used to the camera being there. I think maybe a film about women would be more complicated because I know them so well already.

What were your guiding principles while you were making this film?

I didn’t give them any dialogue. I just told them the scenario and said go. There was a lot of improvisation, and I had a lot of subjects in my mind that I collected for three years with them. As an example, I wanted Arash to explain how he made himself fat enough to avoid military service, but I never told him what to say. It was all true. The narrative arc, the fiction feel, came later in editing.

What were the real-world consequences of the film for the guys?

Something happened while filming. Arash became happier, more self-confident. I wanted that, but I didn’t write it, it just happened. Maybe it was the girls, maybe the south. Hossein’s big shock wasn’t good for him at the time, but it was good for the film, and he really did get that phone call.

What was it like working with non-professional actors?

They were always so conscious that they were making a movie. In the scene with the train, they knew they had to cut the discussion as the train passed, to give the audience time to think. They became great actors. When we started shooting I think they would have tried to talk over the train, but by the end of the shooting they knew what to do. By the end, I was making the film with them, not about them. After Cannes they even got proposals from other Iranian directors, but they just said: ‘No, no, we aren’t actors!’”

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