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This couple was never supposed to meet. Queen Farah Diba of Iran and
the girl who fought her from the left and made the revolution.
But as often happens, revolutions eat their children and director Nahid Persson had to escape from her country, a country which had just executed her young brother.
So Persson ended up in Sweden, started to make documentaries and one day got the idea of taking contact with the queen, asking if it was possible to make a movie about her life today.
It was possible and the two of them become good friends in the end. The queen is found to still be much of an empress but also a warm person, who doesn't just call people in Iran. She is somewhat, as a paradox, willing to serve.
A warm documentary which once again tells us the truth. Whatever we are, we are first of all human beings.
As I watched this documentary on HBO, I was mesmerized by the conflict
between the film-maker, Nahid Persson, and Farah, the former Queen of
Iran. Persson, a fighter for the Iranian Revolution of 1979-80, fled to
Sweden and is plagued by the misdeeds and tragedy of the regime she
helped achieve power. Her regrets include executions, human rights
abuses and a death in her own family; yet, she has never forgotten the
evils of the monarchy which the current regime replaced.
Onto the stage comes Farah, wife of the late Shah of Iran, who was vilified for her own excesses during a reign that was known for its Westernization of Iran but also the brutal repression and inequality of life for most Iranians. This state of affairs led to social activists and anti-western fascists coming together to overthrow the Shah, who was forced to flee the country with his family. Persson is now a film-maker who wants to confront this exiled Queen.
At first, the Queen is a mass of contradictions. She allows the film-maker to access her personal world and then regrets the whole project. Persson seems like the last person the Queen would ever allow into her sanctum. She seems to want to pose embarrassing questions before the Shah's widow has had a chance to warm up or show a human side to her personality. This is how a more seasoned interviewer would proceed (Katie Couric or Barbara Walters for example). Perhaps Nahid Persson is too personally involved and very soon is bounced from the Queen's life. However, she does not give up on the project and six months later, is back again.
This time, the ex-Queen is more approachable and even willing to see things from the other side - to some extent. No doubt much of this is more astute public relations but she does appear more human and even allows the film-maker to accompany her on a number of personal engagements, including a meeting with a group of Iranian royalists, outings to cafes and art exhibits and even a pilgrimage to the Shah's tomb.
During the course of the film, we see Farah as an elegant and cultured woman who has suffered not just a huge loss of status and prestige but also been isolated from her homeland and been ostracized by many former friends. She has clearly never overcome the shock of the death of a daughter, whose troubled life she attributes to the Shah's downfall. She is lonely and at times her eyes filled with tears. There are compensations for her, particularly her trips to visit her son and grandchildren. She does try to understand the other woman's losses as well and she feels they have both been victims of the current regime in Iran. In the end, the two hug one another and while there is a certain level of compatibility, one cannot imagine them becoming close.
The film evolves in a very compelling way and both seem to become more human figures, less pre-occupied with their own personal struggles. I couldn't take my eyes off this documentary film. It makes for a fascinating and haunting journey that I would love to see again. As someone else so aptly wrote, in the final analysis, we are all human beings.
I found this documentary very moving, yet sober. Two women of very different backgrounds, one an empress the other a former rebel, meet and connect over the similar circumstances they find themselves in after the Iran revolution. Political and class differences aside, filmmaker and commoner Nahid and Empress Farah have both suffered painful losses during and after the revolution, yet they have found a way through the pain to still live meaningful lives. The two women share a profound dream of one day returning to their beloved homeland - and work to that end, each in their own way. It's hard not to be impressed by the sheer classiness of Empress Farah and impossible not to be moved by both women's life stories and budding friendship as it unfolds in 'The Queen and I'. I give this film a hearty recommendation.
Director Nahid Persson is born in Iran, from a family who was actively
opposed to the regime of the Shah. As a young Communist she was among
the million of youth who cheered in the streets when the revolution
broke and the Shah and his wife, empress Farah flew the country.
Although they lived in the same country, the two women were separated
by huge social and political differences, and for Nahid as for many
Iranians the fairy tale lives of the royals had become the symbols of
corruption and repression. Yet, soon after the revolution the dreams of
democracy and of a better life proved to be illusions and Nahid and her
family found themselves again on the side of the opposition, and
eventually had to flew Iran.
Thirty years after the revolution the Sweden-settled Persson looks back in this documentary to the time of the revolution, and tries and succeeds to meet the former empress, now living as a refugee, but a different kind of refugee, in order to understand not only what she has become, but also her own feelings towards a woman who decades ago symbolized for her evil, and now is living at least from some aspects a similar life of longing for the lost country. The film includes the interviews with Farah, and these are more or less what you can expect. The former empress is living the life of a high-class, jet-style refugee. Her views did not seem to have changed too much in the decades since the fall from power of the Shah. Neither does the director want to push too hard questions on her. These are asked a few time off-screen, but they seem to have been shared much more with the viewers of the film than with the subject of the interviews. Maybe it's a sign of respect, or maybe it is the strong and fascinating personality of Farah who wins the heart of the director, or maybe the shared fate of the two women is more important than any other story told in the film. Made and issued to screens around the time when many other documentary films about the fall of the Shah and the Islamic revolution were made 30 years after the events, 'The Queen and I' is one of the more interesting, and the human story occupies a better place in this film than the political one.
Released in the United States in June of this year, Iranian filmmaker,
Nahid Persson Sarvestani, turns her lens on Queen Farah, the widow of
the last Shah of Iran. This documentary poses the question well,
sorry, I couldn't understand what the premise was, because according to
the film maker herself, the film "had a life of its own".
Sarvestani, a former communist sympathizer, escaped from Iran around the time the Ayatollah Khomeini took over leadership and established a theocracy after 2,500 years of monarchical rule in 1979. The story of her disillusionment in the new regime is reflected against her subject's genteel denial of the events that lead to her husband's eventual ouster.
Nahid and Queen Farah share thoughts and feelings about their separate paths that intertwine them for the duration of this engrossing documentary. Pain and sorrow reveal the skepticism of Nahid's memory of the Shah's oppressive rule and the graceful deflection of that harsh reality for Farah. Each woman both sisters of Iran symbolize the old and new that is modern Iran today. At one point during the filming, Nahid follows Farah through a dinner party, honoring the former Queen Farah as the undisputed Queen of Iran, among a group of fierce pro-Shah Loyalists.
"What am I doing here?", Nahid says to the camera or maybe more to herself.
Through it all, what ends up uniting them is not ideology, but a simple mound of earth from their beloved Iranian homeland.
This film gives a fascinating and enlightening portrait of the last Queen of Iran, Farah. I knew very little about her prior to viewing this film, but now I feel as if I know her intimately. The filmmaker definitely treads a fine line between wanting to confront the Queen with the Shah's transgressions and viewing the Queen as an elegant and refined woman whose life of luxury and privilege has ultimately turned to be one of disappointment. By the end of the film the hard questions have been asked and answered; whether or not the viewer chooses to accept the explanations is up to him or her. It is very obvious to me that, despite the oppressions imposed during the Shah's regime, Iranians would be far better off today were they still under his rule instead of being a theocracy run by evil zealots.
After revolutions happen, it is rarely the case that the participants and the deposed get to meet -- let alone have a conversation with -- each other. The value of this documentary lays in the fact that a child of and participant in the Iranian revolution of 1979 (whose brother was executed in the aftermath, and who herself fled the country) sought out, met, and even began to see things from the viewpoint of Farah Diba, the Shah's third wife and widow, who lives a life of luxury and loneliness in Paris. That these conversations were possible is to the credit of both participants, and Nahid Persson does a remarkable job of showcasing the range of Iranian responses to the Shah and his rule -- from sycophantic Iranian Americans who still consider his son their King, to an Iranian man who was a victim of the Shah's policies. The filmmaker ultimately fails to ask some hard questions, and Farah is naturally suspicious of her motives at times, but in the end a portrait emerges of two women who have both in their own ways been pawns in a game of chess played by history. There is reconciliation, even if there is inadequate emphasis on truth.
This movie interviews the Queen of Iran (whose husband the Shah was
deposed in 1979). It is not the usual sycophant publicity garbage and
you can really size up Farah.
These figures of history hold a fascination especially if you get a candid look at them.
Farah's life was tragic...two of children committed suicide. Humiliation and loss of power is never a joy.
But this is what makes her someone you like better.
I highly recommend this documentary.
Not much substance here. Persson's background is most interesting. After her brother is killed under the Shah, the Commie revolutionary flees Iran and sneaks into Sweden with a fake passport. I would have loved to have seen a movie about Persson. Instead, we get a puff piece of Evita style worship. Persson eventually works up her nerve to ask Farah about oppression under the Shah. Farah replies with a confusing mishmash excuse of paranoia about Russia! Persson mentions SAVAK, Farah plays down its power, and that's about it. What should be the crux of the movie only gets a minute mention. Persson was scared that if she offended Farah, she wouldn't have a movie to make. An interesting doc, but not a hard hitter.
The Shah of Iran was an incompetent and somewhat brutal leader, with a much younger wife, whose rule was a principal cause of the accession to power of the still worse regime that succeeded his own. A former communist and opponent of his, herself exiled by the following government, now sets out to make a film about her life in exile and also that of the Shah's widow, who has been out of their common homeland for even longer. It's an interesting idea: to what extent do the two women, who once stood on opposite sides, find common cause after years abroad? But unfortunately, getting the film made requires the widow's cooperation, and she is (quite naturally) extremely cautious. Thus the film-maker is forced to tip-toe around her subject, asking none of the obvious questions (after 30 years, the ex-Queen still lives in luxury with servants) and instead agonising in pieces to camera about her own moral uncertainty at making nice with (and to some extent, genuinely liking) her former monarch. Just sometimes, the story of how a film-maker comes to make a film is more interesting than the film's ostensible subject; but like a football referee, usually the best film-makers are personally invisible. Instead, this film tells of its director's personal journey in making it perhaps mainly because without this, there is little more than sympathetic (and some might say sycophantic) footage of a woman who, for all the hardships in her life, has clearly never been in the slightest bit of danger of having to do a day's proper work. My sympathy lies elsewhere.
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