With ‘The Four Walls’ Bahman Ghobadi Pushes Back Against the Forces That Hold Him in

Bahman Ghobadi, the Kurdish-Iranian director whose “The Four Walls” has its world premiere this week at the Tokyo International Film Festival, wants people to watch his film on a big screen.

“If you watch it on a computer you might think that ‘The Four Walls’ is about a building,” he says. “But watching in the cinema you will be able to understand that it is a metaphor, to feel the different forces pressing in.”

Bahman Ghobadi
Mij Film

The story, loosely based on Ghobadi’s own experiences, involves a man who works for years to buy a small home with a sea view and to have his family move in with him. But, when he returns after a period of enforced absence, he finds that a developer is building a new property that will block his cherished vista. The man’s fight to reclaim what he has lost is humorous, tragic and enraging.

The film is set in Istanbul, the Euro-Asian megalopolis that is just one of the many places that Ghobadi has temporarily settled in since leaving Iran. Ghobadi made his Kurdish-language “A Time For Drunken Horses,” which earned him the Camera d’or for best first film in 2000, while still living in Iran. But he has since spent 13 years away from home, ten of those living in hotel rooms.

Now his furniture is scattered around the world in places including Istanbul, Los Angeles and New York. “I don’t want to feel like an exile,” he says. “But I do miss my little table for writing.”

Ghobadi says that he chose to set “The Four Walls” in Istanbul because it is a place where there is a large Kurdish population and no fighting. In that respect, it offered a narrow pathway between the political walls that seem to hem him in and allowed Ghobadi to fulfil his ambition of making another film about Kurds.

He keeps his distance from the Iranian authorities who banned his 2006 film “Half Moon” and would like to shut him down. And he is suspicious of Kurdish authorities with whom he has clashed on cultural and art issues. The Turkish government has been involved in an armed conflict with Kurdish insurgent groups since 1978, but the issue is mostly localized on the country’s southern border.

“So, I’ve ended up making the film in the Turkish language, which I don’t speak at all, but it is a way of making sure I can show my movie (in Turkey),” he says.

“The Four Walls” has an important theme, namely that even if justice is not available, people should at least act with a good conscience. But as well as delivering that moral message, Ghobadi intends that the picture pack a mix of drama, anger and humor. “I don’t want to punish my audience, I want them at least to taste the food,” he says.

Away from the immediate business of making movies, Ghobadi has recently begun campaigning for AMPAS to create a system where the Oscars can accept submissions from filmmakers who, for political reasons, cannot be nominated by their home territories. “There are so many great filmmakers, who [are exiled and] can never be submitted [Mohammad] Rasoulof and [Jafar] Panahi, for example.”

Ghobadi says that the Academy is considering his suggestion, but it has not yet responded formally.

Nevertheless, the U.S. is likely to be seeing a lot more of Ghobadi. He is currently preparing two independently-produced TV series and his first English-language feature.

Martin Scorsese, an ally who previously gave Ghobadi a minor acting role in “The Irishman,” is to executive produce “Two Brothers.” Expanded from a previous short film, the project focuses on two brothers who, though physically joined at the hip, have opposing religious views. The narrative tracks the last ten days before they have surgery that will separate them.


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