Iran: Youth cry out for freedom, culture is imprisoned

First women, then men and intellectuals have dared to challenge the mullahs’ regime for more than a hundred days. The world of culture is at the forefront of resistance. However, their popularity does not always protect them.

Every week in Tehran, fountains fill with a blood-red liquid. A highly symbolic act of creation, an accusing tomb for the approximately 530 dead since the start of the demonstrations. The authorities empty the fountains as quickly as possible… And a few days later, in another district, the same artistic gesture: a basin is colored purple. This is one example among many others.

Better than a long speech, art summarizes everything: death, suffering, injustice. For Iranians, art has always coexisted with life. Poetry, music, songs, pictorial miniatures, but also modern, conceptual art, comics and especially cinema. “The best machine for creating empathy”, sums up Marjane Satrapi, who draws and films. She and the actresses Golshifteh Farahani and Zar Amir Ebrahimi are the most powerful voices of this Iranian neo-revolution.

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Exiled far from their beloved homeland, they are 53, 39 and 41 years old, and all three admit to being amazed by the nerve of this generation that they have not seen growing up. “We were traumatized by the Iran-Iraq war and stuck by the ideology of our parents, who had believed in the revolution, explains Golshifteh in “Télérama”. Our freedom, we lived it in the basements. These girls come out of the cellars to claim their freedom in broad daylight. Rid of “isms”, ideologies: communism, Islamism, nationalism…” And this is one of their idols, popular musician and rapper Toomaj Salehi, 26, who finds himself behind bars and sentenced to hang.

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He joins his elders, accustomed to Iranian jails, starting with the filmmakers: Jafar Panahi (“Taxi Tehran”, “No bear”, both award-winning), Mohammad Rasoulof (“The devil does not exist”, Golden bear ), Mostafa Al-Ahmad (known in Iran, four screenplays including “Poosteh” in 2009 and “Nevisandeh Boodan” in 2011). Along with three hundred other directors, these three had signed a petition urging the leaders to “lay down their arms”.

How to look away when his people are bleeding?

Jafar Panahi

They denounced “the corruption, theft, negligence and repression” of the authorities following the collapse, in May, of a building built anyhow and which had killed 41 people in Abadan. It was in July 2022. They could have worked for their own release, made filmed “confessions”, left the country… There was no question of letting go. Panahi: “Concretely, I would have no difficulty leaving Iran. Emotionally, it’s impossible, I can’t. For him, no inspiration outside of Iran. How to look elsewhere when his people are bleeding? Panahi is a virtuoso of the allusive scenario. His films are allegories or parodies of human indignity, absurd and cruel situations. “Not being able to create is to die. »

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Regime militiamen attack demonstrators on September 19 in Tehran.

© AP/Sipa

Rather shoot clandestinely, on a cell phone, with unsatisfactory shots and approximate lights, than leave. He cobbled together “No Bear” in 2021 (special jury prize in Venice) in Turkey via “teleconferences” from Iran, where he resided. Obviously, his films are banned in his country. A paradox that he did not fail to raise during a bogus trial: “All my festival trophies are proudly displayed at the Tehran Cinema Museum, in a showcase that is bigger than my cell! “His son Panah Panahi assures that” he is not mistreated “, that he can sometimes exchange with fellow prisoners who, like him, have nothing to do in detention.

Artists, actors, teachers, students, sociologists (a prohibited subject), scientists, engineers (who refuse to work for the military industry), doctors like Hamid Ghare-Hassanlou (he is sentenced to death for having attended the funeral of a demonstrator in Karaj)… The Iranians tell you that “if you open the doors of the prison of Evin, you have enough to constitute a complete government. Knowledgeable, intelligent, efficient, honest ministers. Quite the opposite of the perverts and corrupt illiterates that we have in power”. Alas, nothing is worse than an army of desperate fools.

Iranian graduates know something about it. Discredited, much more threatened by the system – mullahs, pasdarans, bassidjis, who believe they can do anything with them – most actresses, creators, photographers, documentary filmmakers resign themselves to exile. Sepideh Farsi, director, based in France: “Our body, already, is a provocation for these patients. »

For us, there is no way to escape commitment. Our body is political

Mina Kavani, actress

Actress Mina Kavani, who plays in “No Bear”, analyzes: “Our body is our working instrument. A screenwriter can navigate with prohibitions. But how does a censored actress act in her body? For us, there is no way to escape commitment. Our body is political. »

The gesture of these high school girls against Ali Khamenei, the supreme guide of the Revolution, could cost them their lives.  October 6.

The gesture of these high school girls against Ali Khamenei, the supreme guide of the Revolution, could cost them their lives. October 6.

© Abaca

She preferred exile to prison, became French, uprooted from her land, forever hurt. She knows it, like Sepideh, Golshifteh, Zar… her words can endanger her family “over there”. Their colleague, the famous Taraneh Alidoosti, 38, decided to stay in her country and “pay the price”. She stopped working to help the families of arrested protesters. Here she is since the end of December in the sinister prison of Evin, ruthless with women.

The one who starred in four award-winning films by Asghar Farhadi, including “About Elly” and “The Client”, as well as in “Leila and her brothers” by Saeed Roustaee, angrily denounced to her 8 million followers on Instagram: “Any international organization that stands by without reacting to this bloodbath is a disgrace to humanity. »

That bloodbath was the hanging of Mohsen Shekari. A known activist, waiter in a cafe. Executed on charges so false they become laughable. “Endangering national security”; it could have been “enemy of God” as for rappers or “corruptor on earth”, “spy for foreign countries”, “collaborator of Israel”, “agent for America”… Shekari would have injured an agent of police. Athletic, he had just come to the aid of the demonstrators beaten up by the bassidjis.

Neither lawyer nor lawsuit. His mother had not been informed of his execution. It is common. In general, the family does not see their relative again, unrecognizable after the tortures, learns of his burial afterwards, and does not have the right to organize a ceremony of remembrance. Heinous, criminal gestures for example.

Will Taraneh Alidoosti be protected by her fame? This is the first time he has been imprisoned. In 2020, she was given a five-month suspended sentence because of a clash with the morality police. As Golshifteh says: “These people, Jafar, Taraneh, have big mouths. Understand: even behind the walls, they do not hesitate to open their mouths. Cultivated, courageous, they push the limits of fear.

On cell phones and social networks, we discover live beatings

Recluse in prison, renowned, they have important relays. Starting with their colleagues and their fans “on the outside”, tireless and tormented by “the bad conscience and the despair of being so far away”, as Zar admits. Torn apart, the diaspora loses sleep. This is how a sort of cordon sanitaire of information was formed via cell phones and social networks. We discover live beatings on anyone, not necessarily a protester. The tragic cinema of reality is in the street. There, the accusations are more virulent against the international community.

We can indeed understand that. I summarize: “You applaud the impossible films, the courage of these girls who risk their lives, the imprisoned artists… but what about the pressure on this government of killers? Golshifteh observes implacably: “It’s as if a free Iran is of no use to anyone. This image of a dangerous Iran suits them. ” Why ? Another debate.

For only a few days, we have seen on the posts of girls who wander hair in the wind in the bazaar and in the streets, without even attracting a glance from passers-by. As if the thing was acquired. Golshifteh: “The veil is the basis of Islamic oppression on women. If it falls, the rest will crumble. ” A miracle ? A tiny victory?

Iran: Youth cry out for freedom, culture is imprisoned