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IFFR 2023 Big Screen Competition

Abbas Amini • Director of Endless Borders

“Exile is still a reality that exists in Iran”


- The Iranian helmer talked us through the writing process behind his film, his work with the DoP and the composer, and the importance of forbidden love

Abbas Amini • Director of Endless Borders

Cineuropa chatted to Abbas Amini, the director of Endless Borders [+see also:
film review
interview: Abbas Amini
film profile
. The feature, world-premiered in the Big Screen Competition of this year’s IFFR, centres on Ahmad (portrayed by Pouria Rahimi Sam), an exiled teacher living in a poor village along the Iranian border with Afghanistan, mostly inhabited by ethnic Baloch. There, he gets to know a family of illegal Hazara refugees fleeing the Taliban and tries to save a couple of young lovers.

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Cineuropa: How did the idea for the movie come about?
Abbas Amini:
First of all, the story I initially had in mind took place from the Iranian-Afghani border up to the Iranian-Turkish one. [...] It was very important for me not to limit the story to geographical borders, though. I tried to show the boundaries of thought during this [creative] process.

Why did you choose an exiled teacher as your lead character?
Exile is still a reality that exists in Iran. There are too many teachers or professionals who are sent into exile in some poor areas of the country, around the borders or to some other places.

[Producer Farzad Pak, who helped translate our conversation, added: “The meaning of exile for Europeans might be different because it no longer exists in Europe. If the government wants to punish somebody politically – or for whatever reason – they send them to the poorest cities or provinces, so that they’re far away and they’re asked to carry out certain tasks.”]

The situation of being in exile is very important for me because it looks like these people are free, but they’re actually imprisoned. Another thing I’d like to add is that all of these people – the family of the refugees, the teacher and his partners – are somehow in “exile”, since they are looking for a safe place. Even if they manage to cross the border, it’s just the beginning of another stage of exile.

How did you work together with Hossein Farokhzadeh?
I had the initial idea and shared the story with my colleagues. Then, I developed it together with Hossein Farokhazadahe. [For me,] the co-writer is a person with another viewpoint, who supervises the writing and looks at it from another perspective.

Why did you place so much emphasis on the theme of forbidden love?
This forbidden love is – again – another border that exists within people’s thinking and within culture. And such a border is not necessarily imposed on people by the government or by society, but also by the families themselves. These restrictions set out borders within our own relationships.

How did you cast Ahmad?
He is a well-known actor in Iran. For me, the most important thing was to cast somebody who had the potential to interact with non-professional actors, since most of the people you see in the film are non-professionals. So I needed somebody who could evolve within their role, and this is something amateurs can’t do.

Besides, the protagonist of this film is not a hero. So we see him facing different situations when we don’t understand whether he’s brave or an opportunist. In some of the dialogues that he has with his partner, he admits he’s not a political activist; he’s just a teacher and doesn’t want to get involved too much. So he was also chosen because his looks could fit this kind of character. He was the right choice to play Ahmad.

Interestingly, the score of the film is quite sparse. Could you elaborate on this choice and your work with composer Atena Eshtiaghi?
I don’t really want to use music to overdramatise the story and the situations depicted. Instead, I like to use elements of the score that are closer to reality, so you can feel them as “natural” effects. I’m very fond of music, but at the same time, I think it shouldn’t be “out of the film”. When the audience is watching the movie, they shouldn’t be closing their eyes and just listening to it. Instead, music should be part of the film and bring them deeper into a particular atmosphere.

What kind of artistic vision did you share with your DoP, Saman Loftian?
I didn’t want to drift too far away from the reality of what is happening there and the documentary style I used to work with [before embarking on the making of this film]. We tried to achieve this by using a limited range of lenses, and most of the feature is shot handheld, with a 15 mm lens. So you can feel the documentary-like approach, but also, the image gets the proper professional, cinematic quality it deserves.

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