BAFTA-nominated director Tina Gharavi (“I Am Nasrine”) is heading to Rome’s MIA market this week with her timely biopic “Forough: A Lonely Woman,” the story of iconoclastic Persian poet Forough Farrokhzad who “set Iran on fire” during her short and controversial life.
The film follows the feminist icon who in the 1950s and ‘60s found a way to tell her story in an Iranian society not yet ready for the uncomfortable truths of female desire and ambition.
Gharavi described the modernist poet as “our Sylvia Plath” and drew a comparison to another feminist artist and icon, calling Farrokhzad “as important [to Iranian culture] as Frida Kahlo is to Mexico.”
“Like her, she was a revolutionary,” she said. “Culturally, Forough was this luminary, an independent woman, very advanced for her times, an exquisite poet.” Farrokhzad challenged the traditional norms and structures of Persian poetry while also living an openly promiscuous life, writing about her affair with a married man and scandalizing Iranian society. “It was just radical,” Gharavi said. “She set Iran on fire.”
“Forough: A Lonely Woman” is produced by London-based Poisson Rouge Pictures, whose recent credits include “Scarborough,” which earned a BIFA nomination for actress Jessica Barden, and the French dramedy “Demain Tout Commence” (Two Is a Family), featuring “Lupin” star Omar Sy. The film is co-written by Gharavi and Micsha Sadeghi.
At MIA this week, Gharavi and producer Christopher Granier-Deferre will be looking for a sales agent and co-producers to close roughly 40% of the film’s budget. “We’re really looking for [partners] to come onboard for this last push of putting the finance plan together, and we hope to meet those partners in Rome and make a beautiful biopic,” Gharavi said.
One goal is to find partners from around the Mediterranean region that could serve as fitting stand-ins for Tehran. It’s a necessary move that allows the creators to tell Farrokhzad’s story the way it deserves to be told, said Gharavi.
“We would honor the fact that she talks about sexuality. She writes about sex. That’s not a part that you can take out of Forough’s work. That would be counter to what she was all about,” said the director. “She was talking about the stuff that was unspoken or difficult to speak about, and I don’t think you can do that in Iranian society at the moment.”
Though Farrokhzad led a short, troubled life, dying in a car accident when she was only 32, Gharavi said her impact has been long-lasting; young women visit the late poet’s grave to this day. She also made her mark as a filmmaker with the documentary short “The House Is Black,” an empathetic portrait of life in a leper colony that is widely considered to be a precursor to the Iranian New Wave.
It was the uncompromising nature of Farrokhzad’s “naked ambition,” said Gharavi, that compelled her to make “A Lonely Woman,” offering as it did a reminder that “women are from day one taught to not really think that they can be equal to or, dare I say, ahead of men.
“The woman that I see in Forough is someone who doesn’t want to make compromises, doesn’t want to be second best, doesn’t really hold any truck with the fact that she’s a woman, so why she shouldn’t be up there in the canon of Persian literature,” said the director.
Gharavi credited her own father, who “did not use gender as an excuse,” with instilling the same lesson in her from an early age. “There’s always been this sort of sense that for me, as an Iranian woman, I could be equal to or better than men, and gender should not be something that cripples you at all,” she said. “And I think that that’s the story that I’m reminded of with Forough that really appealed to me and needed to be told.”