Interview Firouzeh Khosrovani

"The biggest challenge was finding the right form."

Film still: Radiograph of a Family, dir. Firouzeh Khosrovani (Iran).

As she says herself, Firouzeh Khosrovani’s family saga is her life’s work. It started at an early age, when she found the photo albums from which her mother had torn people and events she considered indecent or otherwise offensive to her religious beliefs.

“Then I tried to draw, in a colouring book, the missing parts of those – in my eyes – grotesquely mutilated photographs. That was my first attempt at reconstruction”, the Iranian director says. “But if I had made Radiograph of a Family fifteen years ago, it would have been a very different film. It is better that I waited – I needed that distance.”

Following on from several films that deal implicitly or explicitly with the restrictions of Iranian society, in Radiograph of a Family Khosrovani talks about her man-of-the-world father, who falls in love with a young woman from a traditional family. At first they seem able to overcome these differences in background, but the Islamic Revolution of 1979 drives a wedge between man and wife. This is a tragic love story, presented using the highly stylised technique Khosrovani describes as ‘non-fictional storytelling’.

“The biggest challenge was finding the right form”, she says. “Without a unique form, a film is not interesting. I want to make my story into the story of others; a collective experience that goes beyond an ‘ego document’. I drew the film on paper, and after a lot of sketching I decided to place the revolution at exactly the mid-way point in the film. The first part is about my father’s time and lifestyle. After the revolution my mother gets her turn, and the emphasis shifts to religion and tradition.”

The photos from the family albums make up the starting point of the film, supplemented by moving images. “Some of this material is from Iranian state television, and paints a picture of that time. But I mostly used Super-8 films. This amateur footage shows the unofficial version of history. Sometimes it’s blurred or the camera shakes, and this gives the footage a dreamy quality that offers the viewer a way in.”

The found footage is interspersed with shots of a living room with ever-changing furnishings. “That’s my parents’ house as I imagine it; a metaphor for the constant changes. Here too, there is a division into two spaces: my father’s territory and my mother’s space. These are two ways of thinking, two different systems of faith and convictions – as I child, I was caught between these.”

Of all the elements that make up the film, the one that cost Khosrovani the most time and effort was probably the dialogue in voice-over. “I spent two years writing, and in the end I only used a third of that text. It had to be minimalist, with short sentences. I didn’t want to overload it with emotion because that would make it sentimental. This is also why I changed the names. Now, it is just like they are two characters in a novel.”

“Each time I have watched the film with Iranians, the audience has split into two factions: pro-mother and pro-father. This is because everyone feels the polarisation brought about by the revolution. But this film is not explicitly about the revolution – many such films have been made already. This is about the personal, which is political. The film’s form is family, but the content is values. If I can manage to be this intimate and authentic, then the film can appeal to a universal audience. It’s about human emotions and what ideology does to these.”

Filmmaker Talk with Firouzeh Khosrovani at IDFA 2020. Photo by Roos Trommelen.