On Today (2014): An interview with Reza Mirkarimi and Shadmehr Rastin
Director and Writer of Today
Interviewed and Translated by Hamid Taheri
Offscreen: Iranian cinema has had developed an atmosphere based on “not judging” in recent years, during which time many movies have been produced with this characteristic. In this atmosphere, how did you come to choose a man whose background tells us he is rooted in “holy defense”? It seems somehow that you are developing this idea of “not judging,” or rather “not judging with cruelty,” as a type of character that is unprecedented in this kind of cinema.
Reza Mirkarimi: What we see in Today is of course a reaction to the atmosphere we live in and conditions which we want to criticize. I believe avoidance of judging is part of the movie’s message and the story has a greater proposition which can result in criticizing prejudgment.
All in all, I was looking for a serenity which is hard to find in our society, in opposition to idealist films which are in animosity with morality. I was looking for a view to put these two in companion, a view which is not demanding, which is not aggressive, and also is not accused of being naïve. Today is looking for a practical, humane, and brief proposition so that it wouldn’t be rejected for being a slogan or put aside for being rebellious or being at odds with norms and at the same time wouldn’t be neutral and hopeless.
This time we want to redefine today’s hero. We have to represent characters so that people won’t forget there are still many ways to better the situation and show them those who can make this happen are not extraordinary. These are people who can use their humane and individual potential and in this way they transform into responsible characters that can do their jobs perfectly.
Offscreen: One of the most important qualities of Younes is his silence, by which I mean that he reacts to a lot of actions with silence. It seems like he is looking for a solution to all of his problems in this silence.
Reza Mirkarimi: In developing this story Shadmehr and I talked about this silence a lot. In the first encounter some people thought we forgot to write dialogue for this character! We wrote a lot of things which were put aside. We knew this silence may make audiences angry. An audience who has fallen into habit of talking to defend himself or herself. This has transformed into a norm in which anyone who talks is active and those who don’t are passive. We wanted to move against this stream but finding a type of silence which wouldn’t convey isolation, advantageousness, pride, hopelessness, fatigue, and indifference, took a lot of work. To find a way to put the character in a situation in which from his silence he finds a political stance, social action, and fulfillment as Younes has a stance against different problems and talks and answers when needed.
Offscreen: Although he doesn’t talk, he does a lot of things throughout the movie.
Reza Mirkarimi: Younes does something heroic with _Today_’s standards. It’s heroic not because of what he does but in his self-wanted anonymity. In fact, what bothers the audiences is his lack of pretentious attitude because it seems we are in the habit of representing little things with big showmanship.
Offscreen: Mr. Rastin you too tell us about this man who doesn’t talk. You have written This Woman Does Not Talk which is a very good script.
Reza Mirkarimi: It’s a good film with a good script.
Shadmehr Rastin: Thank you. Today discusses this idea that society needs innovation in both art and industry. This is society’s desire to show that it’s dynamic and also to get away from its habits by this proposition. This contradiction exists in the audience. To understand the movie, an audience, in the first step, remembers all similar situations they have experienced and then asks “What is the important issue you’re representing?” The most important feature of Today is its defamiliarization. From this point-of-view the movie is doing its artistic responsibility.
We expect a hero to talk about his heroic deeds. The last scene of Omar Mokhtar is well known among us. It’s correct that no one follows his steps but at least there is a boy who helps him with his glasses, or in Behold the Pale Horse again we see a boy, or in Viva Zapata. In all these someone in his or her solitude understands the way of the hero and we are happy that the light of his path will lead on. But here no one understands and it’s not even told to anyone.
The main hero of this film is the audience which listens to these messages and let Younes express himself. Our city behavior has been contradictory for a long time. We expect our media to see us as judges and the result is what you see today. Now there is a film which challenges its audience with this question: “Why?” I believe audiences sympathize with Younes’s surroundings more than himself. For example, an audience would say, “if I were that doctor or that gatekeeper I would do the same.” Because of this sympathy, even the critics of the movie accept the characters as normal people with normal attitudes. They just ask “Why is Younes like this?” This shows the way we connect with this kind of character, a character that is different from classical heroes and does not do what we expect him to do. We are not familiar with someone who chooses and becomes unique in the movie’s universe. After some time we understand that all our ethical, religious, and cultural doctrines three thousand years ago were saying the same thing, from Arash’s “walking out of fire” to Imam Ali’s silence. Even rebellious films like Taxi Driver have to tell its audience this clear border in parentheses. When this does not happen firstly we don’t understand Younes and secondly we see how familiar he is. It seems like he has been living in a world which some time ago we believed to be inefficient. Our real problem is not the opposition of tradition and modernity but it’s our belief in the inefficiency of tradition in the modern world. Because of this we cannot make use of those doctrines.
Offscreen: Everyone is looking for a convincing reason for Younes’s silence.
Reza Mirkarimi: First of all, not everyone but some. Secondly, the culture of remaining anonymous has been removed from our society. Being anonymous is different from isolation. There is a situation in which you say your hero prefers to be isolated because of his lack of ability to defend himself, his lack of social class or education, or his disability or any other thing. This is a miserable oppressed hero who has no choice. It seems he has been put in this situation involuntarily as what we call heivoonaki (miserable man). Everyone says this heivoonaki is a good person. Not in our movie. We chose him from the middle class or even lower class but did not give him this heivoonaki characteristic. This means that Younes has chosen to remain anonymous consciously.
Offscreen: Well this has made a lot of people angry. They say “Why does Younes not defend himself when he can?”
Reza Mirkarimi: When someone defends humanity, he has defended an issue much bigger than himself; the debate is about social or personal interests. “Forgiveness” or “what you do not accept for yourself do not accept for others” is the starting point of any definition of ethics and business views contradict these moral issues and religious knowledge. Imagine our society has a weak point and we aimed at it. How this weak point appeared in a religious society and circle of ideals became empty of morality is another matter. The private relationship of a human being with God in the presence of religious slogans in our society is replaced by ostentatious trades of people with each other or their society or even their government. That’s how only a brainless shell of religious rituals remained. In this situation, a man who resists and does not talk about defending himself passionately and is needless of other’s judgment seems naive to some people. And this question arises for them: “What profit does he get from this anonymity?” Or, as Majd’s head nurse asks him, “I want to know what you are after.” Collective consciousness leaves a society gradually when you turn into someone who surrenders to whatever he or she is told and does not feel any responsibility more than doing what he is told to do. When this kind of attitude is dominant, justification of anonymity is hard.
Offscreen: I believe that morality is formed based on an inner need and belief. Then it turns to behavioral ethics and other people can benefit from it. I mean, first you have to answer your inner needs and your outer side should not be important to you.
Reza Mirkarimi: If that inner sense flourishes correctly and you behave based on your beliefs rather than society’s musts, gradually it won’t matter if people see it or not. I don’t want to enter religion’s realm for there you have to do everything according to God and forget others or what you are doing would be “Sherk.”
Offscreen: I think we can talk about Honor now. In my opinion, we do a lot of things in our daily lives just to save our honor. When Younes does not talk in the movie, somehow he is putting his honor on sale. This matter of honor can be seen throughout the movie and the Today‘s hero sacrifices it.
Reza Mirkarimi: From a religious point-of-view you do not have to fear anyone except God. It means that if some behavior is the result of fearing other people or authority, it wouldn’t be authentic. Like a city full of cameras. Like Tehran. In front of these cameras people are polite and orderly but what happens if the power is gone? In that situation you can see if behaviors have turned into culture or not. In Japan when an earthquake or a tsunami takes place you can see that forgiveness, respect, and tolerance have been institutionalized and have turned into culture, not something formed by social forces and controls. Reputation and honor are something, we believe, are in other people’s hands but according to religious knowledge these are in God’s control and are investments that can be expended whenever they are needed. All investments are expended when needed. If they are not expended they wouldn’t be investments and are useless.
Offscreen: Honor has external symbols and it means that you keep your honor by some of your behaviors but Younes loses his in the film.
Shadmehr Rastin: Mr. Mir Karimi’s arguments in some parts are related to multicultural societies. In multicultural societies laws cannot be efficient. We can see this in our neighbor countries. The majority or even the minority who take power can eliminate their peers. What causes multicultural societies to remain stable is the norm. Here the pick of social norms is honor. In relations based on norms a father can ask his son not to do anything to result in them losing their honor. The biggest favor someone asks another is to make him something which would save his honor. That way we have an honor which defines our social relations. The first outcome of this situation is that we have a binding rule but involve our conscience as well and the conscience would have a critical role.
From another perspective, terms of honor are time related. We may do something now to save our honor but tomorrow we will lose our honor. Forethought of honor is what we call peace. That’s why we say “peace of Imam Hasan is harder than Imam Hosein’s battle.” For this reason honor is more important in the long run. The most important thing Younes does is to save the newborn baby’s honor. The woman’s honor was gone in the operating room. Younes’s honor will be gone too. These would cost that baby its honor.
How much do we think of our honor in the society which comes after us? We just want to have honor today. Our criterion is just today. It means even in honor we have an outlook of productivity. We say “We have to save our honor today and 30 years from now is not important. What’s in it for me?” Consequently, law would compromise to save someone’s honor while we have laws to refer for times in which we cannot solve our problems easily.
We had a culture in which someone would pass on what was rightfully his or hers just to save his or her honor but nowadays people would expend their honor to get what is rightfully theirs. My point is that in nearly a decade in urban relations we reached the conclusion that because of the new cultures we are facing, it’s better to regulate everything.
Urban rules and civil rights appeared. Nowadays we know that they are not efficient. These only result in more people in need of jurisdictions. When apartment rights had been legislated, apartment problems were not solved. In the first draft Mr. Mir Karimi wanted to provide a new proposition for urban culture. First we have to be considerate and then we have to review our social and ethical relations in our urban culture. All characters in Today are responsible in their own defined areas. Even the doctor who beats Younes is responsible for his honor.
Reza Mirkarimi: I want to add that when showing off and acting out becomes prevalent in a society what people think about us or what government thinks about us will result in false honor. I mean what we are trying to save is not honor. Honor according to Younes is something you make, not what is granted to you.
That’s why Younes fights to save a woman’s honor. He is ready to sacrifice himself to save the woman’s honor. These behaviors seem a little grimace. I refer you to Hafez’s poems that to invade his pretentious surroundings he even tears up his cloak. In Hafez’s poems you see some kind of a grimace that says “Look! I do not respect that honor you define.”
Shadmehr Rastin: In addition to his responsibilities, Younes respects other people’s responsibilities as well. He does not say your responsibility is less than mine. All characters in the film have their own responsibilities as well. In a way, Younes confirms all of them, like when he tells that guard to move his car.
If we want to talk in today’s fashion, Facebook “likes” do not mean honor. If the entire city “likes” that someone has honor it does not necessarily mean he has the honor. The criterion for deciding someone’s honor can be either religious values or a process of urban culture, which means what we are doing in urban culture. If we say someone is honorable because people confirm it, this question arises about whether the quality of honor is equal to quantity of confirmations. If a society calls someone honorable is it necessarily correct? The degree of dissatisfaction some have for this movie can also be a sign of its influence.
Offscreen: Isn’t this hero who is silent most of the time and prefers to act a reaction to the people in society who say things but do nothing?
Reza Mirkarimi: Of course, today was thought of and was written when we heard statistics everywhere. The world was full of their statistics but no action came out of them.