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Stunned to discover that her son has vanished while studying abroad in Athens, an Iranian woman sets off on a desperate search across the Greek capital to find him. Navigating a foreign and forbidding landscape, she’s forced to also travel deep within herself, uncovering buried truths and offering a chance for her own reinvention.

“Pari” is the feature debut of writer-director Siamak Etemadi, who was born and raised in Iran and lives in Athens. Produced by Heretic (Greece), Le Bureau (France), Topkapi (Netherlands), and The Chouchkov Brothers (Bulgaria), it had its world premiere Feb. 25 in the Panorama section of the Berlin Film Festival. Heretic Outreach is handling world sales.

Conceived in part as what Etemadi calls a “love letter” to his mother, the film is a portrait of a woman (Melika Foroutan) unbowed by her own fears and inhibitions, driven by an almost blind determination to find her son. Her search is rooted in the desire described in classical Persian poetry as the “longing for the beloved,” a deep yearning for something or someone that can never be fulfilled.

In that desire, the director found the animating principle of Pari’s journey. “This empty place in your soul makes you move. You have to grow as a person, you have to do more with your life,” he said. “Every time you are in love…or lose a very dear person to you, it can have that effect. You can’t continue the way you used to. Something has to change.”

While “Pari” charts an Iranian woman’s harrowing journey through the dark underbelly of Athens, and unspools against the backdrop of the ongoing refugee crisis in the Mediterranean, Etemadi admits that his own transition to life in Greece was fairly smooth. He arrived in Athens in 1995 as a university student, leaving behind a stable middle-class home in Tehran to study film. “From the beginning…I felt that this is the place for me. It felt right,” he said. “I felt that I had this connection with the Greeks. I felt comfortable.”

Adapting to the Greek language still took time, and Etemadi’s evolution in his adopted homeland would eventually inform the making of “Pari.” The film hinges on the idea of rebirth, which the director connects to the long tradition of Persian Sufi verse, including the poem by the 13th-century classical poet Rumi that is central to the movie.

Etemadi recalled discovering an English translation of the text in Athens years ago, at a time when he was still grappling with what he calls his “transnational” identity, and struggling to find his creative voice. Rumi’s verse seemed to illuminate a possible path for him to follow, in the same way that it provides the key to Pari’s reinvention.

“When I came across that poem, for me it felt that [American poet] Coleman Barks, through her interpretation, had managed to convey the essence of that poem,” he said. “It gave me hope in the sense [of telling myself], ‘You could also find your way.’”

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