iranian director Vahid JalilvandThe psychological thriller “Beyond the Wall”, which screened in competition at the Venice Film Festival, was featured in the Variety exam as a “morbidly violent allegory for the effects of state-sponsored trauma on the individual that places contemporary Iranian society somewhere on the map between the sixth and seventh circles of hell”.
Since the film’s premiere, protests in Iran raged after the murder of Mahsa Amini and faced savage state violence. Jalilvand tells Variety via video link from Tehran, it is difficult to say what the outcome of the uproar will be, but, he added: “What I am sure of is that Iran will not go back to what it was three months ago, before these protests started. It won’t come back. People have acquired a spirit of struggle for their inalienable rights, and it will not return – it is now irreversible. But at the end of the day, whether there’s a huge transformation or a positive outcome, it’s hard to say.
When asked if a direct line can be drawn between the film’s script and the situation in Iran, he replies: “As [French philosopher] Lucien Goldmann says: “No text written by a writer can be considered without taking into account the context in which the writer lives and the environment of the writer, so naturally this film was also influenced by my environment. But what I was trying to do was send this message to everyone. I was looking more for a universal message through which anyone anywhere on Earth who is experiencing this type of despair could be encouraged to save themselves through their dreams and the hope they might have.
“But naturally, in a country like Iran, where we have a totalitarian regime, it’s more tangible for someone who lives in such a society, and you can’t ignore the realities of living in such a society. . So, I was naturally influenced by that while writing this, but what I was hoping to do is that it could be universal, and not just related to Iranian society.
The film begins with Ali (played by Navid Mohammadzadeh), having given up on life, attempting suicide. His method resembles a torture chamber – he wraps a soaked T-shirt around his head, ties a plastic bag over it, and sticks his hands behind the shower hose. But he is brought back to the brink by pounding on the door of his apartment.
When Ali snatches the bag and staggers to the door, the janitor informs him that a woman is on the run from the police and may have been hiding in the building. As the man leaves, it becomes apparent to the viewer that the fugitive, Leila (played by Diana Habibi), managed to enter the apartment. Ali, however, does not see her as he is almost totally blind. Eventually, he discovers Leila, but decides to help her.
Leila was traumatized after attending a rally of workers demanding their unpaid wages. The demonstration had turned into a riot, brutally repressed by the police. In the chaos, Leila, prone to seizures when stressed, separated from her grandson Taha and was later arrested. Hysterical with concern for her abandoned child, Leila causes an accident and flees the police, now determined to recover her.
When Jalilvand was writing the script for the film, he wrote on a board: “The only thing that can help us tolerate this prison is love.” Ali and Leila are imprisoned by circumstances. However, through their relationship, they are able to achieve some form of redemption.
Jalilvand sees it as a story that audiences around the world can relate to. “Modern humans are confined to a cell in their own world, and at any time, with the different kinds of pressures that we have, we might think to ourselves what an unhappy situation, what an unhappy life we have, and we might think : why are we living this life, why are we in this situation, but only love can rekindle that hope and recreate a sense of hope to carry on.
Jalilvand says he heard almost unanimously from viewers that they were able to relate to Leila, and that’s what he wanted. He wanted audience members “to feel his pain so they could suffer alongside him,” he says.
The audience’s identification with the character may have been achieved through the form of acting that was adopted. Jalilvand did not want Habibi to act in the film, but rather to “become” Leila. “Sometimes it’s not really possible to become the character because of mental or physical limitations, but here what I saw was that Diana was both smart enough and instinctive enough to really become that character. character, Leila,” he says.
For a year and a half, the director commissioned Habibi to carry out a series of exercises through which she adopted the character of Leila. “During that time, she had the ability to fully become that character; she became another human being in fact,” he says.
“It was a risk, and it caused a lot of pain for her and the crew in general. It was a weird experience and all the while, from the start until a month after the end of filming, there was constantly a therapist on set with the crew to make sure Leila stayed in character – to keep her as Leila throughout the duration of the story.
“And luckily Diana herself wasn’t harmed. And on the screen we see the result – it’s really like it’s another person. It’s not Diana we see.
Jalilvand’s method stems from his experience as a documentary filmmaker. “I realized that no matter how good the acting is, most of the time the audience knows that it’s an actor who acts and the character doesn’t interact with people as a different human being. , as a real human being,” he said. said. “But, on the other hand, in documentaries, I always thought it was so easy for a real person to interact with the audience. The connection was very real and for me, that background in documentary cinema made it interesting to see if I could really create such a real person in a story who could connect and interact with the audience.
The film cannot be screened in Iran, although it is not officially banned. “Unfortunately, the current cultural officials in Iran are not even brave enough to ban the film,” he says. “They’re not even brave enough to sit down and watch the movie and find the points they disagree with or the criticisms they might have of the movie.
“At the moment, everything is happening in silence. They don’t allow movies to be shown, nor do they ban movies. It kind of shows their cowardice. They are not brave enough to say anything officially, so officially nothing is said about the film, but they send messages through indirect channels that this film cannot be shown at the moment.
There are no new movies scheduled at this time. “I have some synopses from the past that I might want to work on, but I don’t want to write anything in reaction to the current situation in Iran. I want things to settle in my mind and then start working on something new.