Arian Vazirdaftari Delivers Iranian Cinema with Western Influence in Without Her

Arian Vazirdaftari, whose debut feature film Without Her (“Bi roya”) was released by the Berlin distribution company Picture Tree Intl. and shown as part of the Venice Film Festival’s Horizons Extra section, is no stranger to international festivals. He was part of the Berlinale Talent Campus and his short films have been shown in Busan, Brussels and Cannes, among others.

“I started out as a self-taught filmmaker and only ended up at film school many years later,” says Vazirdaftari. “My international experience helped me a lot. I got to know a more professional atmosphere worldwide, experienced what happens at film festivals, how films are selected and distributed.

“There are so many films and filmmakers around the world, so I knew I had to have something very special to make a film about if I wanted to be successful internationally. These experiences have made me tougher.”

In Without Her, the main character, Roya, is on the verge of emigration when she meets a desperate young woman who appears to be suffering from amnesia. Roya takes them in and soon after, her life begins to fall apart. When she finally discovers that the woman has come to replace her, it’s too late to return.

Shot with Arri Alexa Mini, the story is an original genre crossover, mixing Hitchcockian traits with the doppelganger motif familiar from Brian De Palma’s oeuvre. All with a dash of Iranian social realism cinema that has become an Iranian trademark over time.

Vazirdaftari is aware of the clichés surrounding Iranian cinema. “We have many great filmmakers who specialize in social realism drama. The public and the market are used to it. But other styles are also of interest to young filmmakers.

“For example, I grew up surrounded by tons of DVDs and then in high school I had a gang of movie junkies. We were fixated on Scorsese, Polanski, Bergman and Fellini. It had a big impact on me.

“I’m trying to make films that combine the heritage of Iranian cinema with Western films that I grew up with,” says the young filmmaker. “With ‘Without Her’ I had in mind ‘Rosemary’s Baby’, ‘Mulholland Drive’ and ‘Persona’, but also ‘Maybe Some Other Time’ by the great Bahram Beyzai.

“I feel like maybe I could be part of this new generation and present a film that tries to touch on a different aspect, to experiment with the narrative. It is difficult to do both locally and internationally, but I hope that the international presence will help prove that new aspects of Iranian cinema are worth exploring and introducing to the world.”

“Without Her” is told from a female perspective. For years, men in film spoke on behalf of women, and films often ended in male-gaze fantasy about womanhood rather than realistic character portrayal. How did Vazirdaftari ensure that Roya – whose hardships are often gendered – was flesh and blood?

“I really tried to gain experience with women around me when I was writing the screenplay. Listen to women who have attempted to emigrate and have subsequently had an identity crisis or have been forced to abandon other plans. I also tried to get as much female feedback on the script as possible. I realize that watching Without Her can be a very different experience depending on the gender of the viewer. The male side often tries to perceive it as an objective action and solve it like a mystery. For women, it’s more of a narrative experiment. They really sympathize with Roya because they shared experiences.”

Vazirdaftari discussed the script at length with two leading actresses, Tannaz Tabatabaei and Shadi Karamroudi. Character creation was a collaborative process that required hours of rehearsals. But at the same time the director had the confidence of the actors. “I knew if I tell them, ‘It doesn’t work,’ they will try to change it,” says Vazirdaftari. “I think the backstage atmosphere somehow seeps into the finished film,” says the director with a smile. “My actors were so well prepared. It wasn’t like an ordinary gig. We agreed to give this film everything we had and everything we did.”

Although the film is set in a very particular reality, certain fights seem familiar, particularly to viewers with the Gaslighting experience or to those who have ever been accused of “overreacting” simply for voicing their concerns about the mainstream narrative . Roya constantly doubts the reality around her and is mercilessly shamed for it. But in the end, she’s the one who says, “I told you so!” Arian Vazirdaftari Delivers Iranian Cinema with Western Influence in Without Her

Charles Jones

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