Read it here. I think it's really bad. The interviewer, Deborah Solomon, seems to have one guiding theme--hit home that "over there," in Iran, those people, those Islamofascist tyrants who presumably control every facet of every citizen's life, are ... well, bad. And how crazy is it that Kiarostami is able to make his beautiful masterpieces in the midst of all that crazy oppressive fanaticism over there? ... Nevermind, of course, that Kiarostami is allowed to live and leave his evil and repressive country, to make his films and show them (elsewhere), and that last time he tried to come to the States, it was the government of our freedom-loving society that wouldn't let him in. (Nevermind, also, that a decade ago, Roger Ebert and most everyone else were happy to boo-hiss-and-shout that Kiarostami was just a case of the Emperor's New Clothes, because the man's film shared the Palme D'Or in 1997, god forbid. It took the patient effort of critics like Chesire and Rosenbaum, among others, to get him into the place he occupies in American film culture today, which is still marginal, but now an "admired" & "respectable" middle-highbrow marginality. Though even that seems to be relegated to his 1987-1999 work.) And it's not my intention to stick up for the policies of Iran's government, but this interview--and all the unexamined assumptions it trafficks in--is just ridiculous.
Solomon's questions include:
"New York’s Museum of Modern Art is screening 32 of your films this month and touting your accomplishments as one of the great film directors of our time. I imagine you are less celebrated back home in Tehran." ... "As an independent filmmaker living in a repressive Islamic theocracy, are you harassed by the government?" ... "Unlike some other Iranian artists who have fled the country, why have you decided to stay put?" ... "Seriously, how do artists in Iran deal with the restrictions imposed on them by the government?" ... "What do you think of President Ahmadinejad? Do you agree with his policies?" (If Iran were really as outwardly horrible and repressive a state as these questions would lead one to believe, would Kiarostami really be able to sit and talk to a Times reporter able to candidly answer that question?) "As a Shiite Muslim, are you religious?" (Kiarostami indicates the private nature of the question, which, again--in a horrible awful evil Islamic theocracy, a frank answer to the negative might cause him great trouble, no?) "Many of us in the West are confounded by the intensity of the violence between Iraq’s Shiites and Sunnis, since they belong to the same faith." (Here's where I just roll my eyes. But AK, patient as with all of Solomon's questions, has a fine answer.)
Admittedly, Solomon's last three questions, non-political ones, are pretty good. In a completely insubstantial way, of course.
Once more, I am not trying to stick up for Iran. I mean, I very much "disagree" with strict religious societies, Islamic or otherwise. But really this is a question about agendas, and about the repeated propagation of certain commonplaces about a country that happens to be on the United States' shitlist, about the way a debate is framed, what assumptions are made and insisted upon by the interlocutor in power. (A pop culture example that springs to mind: I recall watching the MTV music awards a few years ago, and my friend and I were joking about how baldly the VJs had to "push" their own ceremony. "Aren't these awards just so crazy and unpredictable?" Almost verbatim. "What was your favorite ceremony moment of the past?" they'd ask a guest. "Was it when all those Eminem clones came out?" Honestly, how transparent does it have to get before people express their disgust en masse?)
It's not that Iran is good and pure and wonderful--it's that we, culturally, our journalists or critics or pundits, keep insisting that it's like the Realm of Mordor, even in seemingly innocuous bits like the one discussed here. And I understand Solomon's bit is a quick Q&A, rigidly guided & structured, not an extended feature interview. This isn't about her personal guilt or responsibility as though she's some bad, xenophobic anti-Iranian. But, if one wants to ask those Big Questions about cinema, censorship, and theocracy in Iran, would it have hurt to simply ask Abbas Kiarostami what he thought of cinema, censorship, and theocracy in Iran, instead of framing the questions along the lines of, 'Given how awful is it there, and how unappreciated your films are there, how do you go on with life at all'? Well, yes, it would have hurt to do so--it would have made for an open dialogue when a cross-examination was more pertinent to the aims of the "liberal" Times and the "liberal" media establishment.
More on Kiarostami in the near future ...