When the Iran-Iraq war broke out in 1980, director Sepideh Farsi was a high school student in Iran. At age 16, she was incarcerated for being an anti-Islamic Republic activist. Farsi stayed in her country until 1984 and then moved to France, where she experienced the second half of the conflict.
In her first animated feature, “The Siren” — which opens Berlin’s Panorama section — the Paris-based director revisits this war through the story of a 14-year-old boy named Omid, who decides to brave the Iraqi siege of Abadan, the capital of the Iranian oil industry. After opting to stay in the city with his grandfather and a bunch of other diehards, Omid and the others take over an abandoned boat he finds in Abadan’s port, which becomes their ark.
Farsi spoke to Variety about her wish to come to terms with her country’s past with “The Siren” and her hope for Iran’s future.
As I understand it, this film stems from your personal experience and a desire to bring back the memory and awareness of the Iran-Iraq war.
Yes, both myself and the writer, Javad Djavahery, were teenagers in that era and we lived the first half of the war in Iran before we left for different reasons. And so we lived through the second half of it from a distance, in France. Hence this desire to revive those years and that chapter of Iranian history, which is very important. Not just for Iran, but for the Middle East at large. And has been largely forgotten.
Why did you use animation? Is it because you are banned from entering Iran?
Yes, but even without me not being able to go back, I thought animation was a richer way of depicting the war era in a more faithful way, paradoxically, than to do it in live action. Somehow animation allows a certain type of distance. It’s like in photography, for instance, sometimes black and white photography allows a distance that you do not have with color photography.
There is a scene in which a young woman chooses to remove her hijab and use it as a tourniquet on a wounded man’s leg. This takes on a particular meaning now in light of the death of Masha Amini for wearing her hijab too loosely and the subsequent protests in Iran sparked by her killing.
Yes, of course, in light of what’s happening in Iran, you would look at this scene and say: “Wow, this is proleptic!” But when we wrote it, in 2017, the idea was just to show a daring young woman who addresses an emergency in her own way, which goes beyond the red lines.
The film’s score mixes traditional Iranian music and many Western musical genres including rock, pop and jazz. Was this a provocative choice?
My intention in choosing this musical mix was to point to different parts of history and different kinds of music in Iran, some of which is forbidden. Yes, you can call this a transgression. I made the whole film not thinking about what the reaction of the regime would be, because I know I’m blacklisted. All my films are forbidden in Iran. I cannot go back to Iran and I’ve sincerely gone past that point of thinking about what they would say, or not, long ago. But my goal was to tell this story freely and show the richness of Iran in a way that filmmakers who still work there cannot do. And I’ve also had the freedom of saying words that are not allowed, of referring to alcohol, and to politics, just as I’ve done in my other films.
Are you hoping “The Siren” will be pirated in Iran so people there can see it?
Yes. The end of the film has hope, and I really, really would like them to feel it as a glow of sun for the near future of Iran, because I’m really hoping that we will reach that victory soon.