By Tara Biglari
The British-Iranian filmmaker Dr. Nariman Massoumi pays a moving tribute to his mother Manijeh in a half-hour documentary screened recently at London’s Royal Anthropological Institute.
“How do you see me?” includes domestic scenes of the filmmaker’s parents commenting on the news while watching television, arguing over house prices, and eating Iranian meals at dinnertime. Having moved from Iran after the 1979 Revolution, the family has maintained Iranian traditions while struggling to find their niche in British society.
Massoumi is a filmmaker and lecturer at the University of Bristol with a background in documentary television production. He specializes in diasporic cinemas and has an interest in mixing British and Iranian film cultures.The screening was part of the Institute’s ongoing “Emerging Voices” series, which features the work of student and early career anthropologists, filmmakers and artists.
Throughout the film, the viewer notices the many boxes lying around the house and the lack of a décor in the household. “It’s like they never really moved in, never felt settled,” said an audience member in a post-screening talk.
Massoumi follows his mother’s daily life, depicting an illness which leaves her wheezing and suffering seizures. In one of the film’s closing scenes, Manijeh asks her son how he sees her, what comes to his mind when he looks at her. Jokingly, Massoumi says he thinks of her warts.
“I feel embarrassed about that scene,” said Massoumi during the Q&A. “I wish I had told her that she’s brilliant, that she inspires me.”
The love between mother and child is palpable in scenes in which she continually asks if her son is still hungry, and remembers his childhood creativity. “There’s a strong feeling of nostalgia, of reminiscence for the past,” said the event’s organizer Caterina Sartori.
During the filming, Massoumi compiled random and very natural shots of his parents sitting around the house and doing daily chores. “I wasn’t going to have any plan, I was going to spend some time at home and see what happened.”
He admitted that he thought the shots were boring, until his supervisor gave him a vote of confidence.
Even so, it was a struggle to make the film, as it was close to home. “I find it really hard to watch, because it’s so personal,” Massoumi said during the talk.
Throughout the film, images from pre-revolutionary Iran are shown in long, drawn-out shots. The presence of colorful dress, wide smiles and warm weather are starkly contrasted with the grey skies, ripped wallpaper and silence in the British house.
During the Q&A, an audience member asked if the film was a way of searching for a British-Iranian identity. Massoumi replied that his source of knowledge of Iran came from cinema, given that he lived there only until the age of five. “I was confronted with an insider/outsider relationship – insider being Iranian at home, and outsider being British in the public space.”
Massoumi also discussed his parents’ reactions to the film. His father felt like part of the furniture, he said, not having enough screen time to his liking. Meanwhile his mother said it did justice to the challenges of daily domestic life.
To find out more about Massoumi’s films, click here.
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