At a time of upheaval in her homeland, the Iranian born actress and director, who won Best Actress at Cannes in 2022 for her role as a journalist hunting a killer in Holy Spider, speaks of the beauty and consolation she finds in Iran and her hopes for a new generation of women there
My favourite place in Tehran
Zahir-od-Dowleh Cemetery is a private cemetery in the north of Tehran. Many cultural figures are buried there, including Forugh Farrokhzad, a female poet I adore and admire. She was a modernist, very brave, but died in an accident in 1966 before she was 30. She made a very interesting movie that was the beginning of the nouvelle vague in Iranian cinema. Very few people can reach the cemetery, as it’s not public, but some who admire the poet sit there at the weekends reading her poetry. The cemetery belongs to my family, so I used to go there in sad moments and I would always find a good feeling. I miss it.
What reminds me of home
Jasmine. The scent is stronger in Iran than anywhere else. And borage, a very beautiful tea, which has a fruit whose odour is very strong and reminds me of springtime. I also miss the rain. Tehran is a dusty city, and when it’s raining wonderful smells come out of the dust.
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The biggest difference between Paris and Iran
Paris is where I have found myself finally as a woman. I lived in Iran for around 25 years and, for almost all those years, I was trying to hide my femininity, to look like a boy. After one or two years of living in Paris, I became okay with my female feelings, my body, my hair. The freedom I found in Paris was so different from when I lived in Iran.
My hopes for the next generation of women in Iran
Women in Iran are so brave. The new generation is even braver. They don’t have boundaries or borders. If they don’t like something, they don’t accept it. If I wanted to send them a message, I would say “Never give up”, because we have the power. I don’t want to make it a feminist message, because we need men. If we are separate, nothing moves. So just keep hoping, keep trying to have liberty.
The most challenging part of my role in the crime thriller Holy Spider
One challenge I had was understanding the motivation of my character, Rahimi. At points in the film, she risks her life to arrest a killer, when no one else is even trying to find him. Why does she do that?
I think I finally found the answer in my personal life, and my personal experiences as a woman in a patriarchal country. But it was difficult to balance the two.
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What it meant to win the Best Actress Palme d’Or award at Cannes
I was shocked. I think it’s just amazing: there is a message of courage, there is a message of justice.
My all-time favourite film
David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive.
The meaning of life for me is just creating things – being part of creation. The most important thing now for me is my future film. I hope I can finish the writing and start production, and find the best producers in the world.
Find out more: @zaramirebrahimi