I was reduced to describing Samira Makhmalbaf as an enigma. That was a tidy way of saying ‘There’s no way I’m gonna be able to fit all this in at under 650 words and still give you brief synopses of her three films that are screening here.’

Suffice it to say I didn’t break any news. A few details, however:

Contrary to what viewers see of her in The Joy of Madness (a video documentary of the making of Samira’s At Five in the Afternoon shot by her younger sister), Samira is not immediately unpleasant. You definitely get the impression that, when pushed, she will push back, and back, and back a little more. And if you still disagree, she’ll let you know how you’re throwing your life away.

She’s actually very gracious when she speaks – lots of thank-yous and easy laughter – and her chin weaves around, making her look a little like a wobble-head doll. She creates a sort of continual drama around her face, resting the point of her chin on her fingers, or smoothing her hair underneath her headscarf.

Her wearing of the headscarf seems to me to be totally subversive. Although she says she believes in god, she has no use for religious superstitions. Her headscarf doesn’t cover much, and as I said she’s constantly running her fingers under it, not so much to keep her thick black hair in line as to remind you that there’s something under the scarf that some people don’t want you to see. Something naughty. Not that she wouldn’t mind showing you, but it might not be proper. Oops, I did it again.

So I finally get her alone. And we talk about how other Iranian filmmakers are jealous of her because she’s Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s daughter and protégé, and how she doesn’t have to rely on subsidies to make her films, so she has more freedom on what and how she can shoot, and how such jealousy is only natural.

Then she took off the headscarf.

I had been so taken in by the whole drama that the sight of her uncovered head put me in a cold sweat. She just reached up and calmly pulled the scarf off the back of her head -- no ceremony, no theatrics. This was a backstage gesture, not intended to excite anyone. But still.

We talked about how she hopes digital technology will make filmmaking more democratic, but she’s said all that elsewhere. And then I asked her about the absurd moments in her films (absurd in that Camus-Sisyphus sort of way). And she didn’t know the word ‘absurd’. I thought that was great.

In the end, my interview didn’t lead our section because the boss thought our interview with Theodora Remundová was more important. But when the Czech section’s interview with supermodel Karolína Kurková turned out to be less than brilliant — kinda like Pope Leo X turned out to be less than Lutheran — they decided to lead with Samira. But they wanted to do their own interview. You know. Just to build it up a little. For a Czech audience. You understand. But if they used any of my material, they’d share the by-line.

So it’s really too bad that Samira wasn’t available to talk.

And I know you were wondering about Nick Holdsworth. And Steven Gaydos, I'm sure. Provided you're not just googling for their names, I'll tell you about it later.


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