The Gene Siskel’s series on Ebrahim Golestan calls him “the lion of Iranian cinema,” but he’s even fiercer than that. In his mid-eighties, Golestan is rude, dismissive, hard of hearing, charming and exasperating. Like his first feature, the rarely screened The Brick and Mirror, he ignores questions and forces seemingly unrelated information on us, in the end telling us even more than he would h ave otherwise. Do we even want him to respond to us?
The Brick and the Mirror is a jumble of episodes, each more infuriating that the last; as Golestan is like his film, the film is like Golestan—it’s something you have to fight. A Nouvelle Vague cab ride leads into a mystical aside in an abandoned construction site out of a Japanese ghost film, which in turn leads to an extended comic scene in a night club and to a police station that seems to have been built inside of a theatre. There are interior scenes in long, immobile takes and outdoor scenes in short handheld ones; a scene in an orphanage abandons the film’s arrhythmic style in order to attune itself, unflinchingly, to peculiar beats—children rattling on metal cribs, rocking back and forth, staring at the camera, receiving injections.
The following are selected responses and questions from the lengthy Q&A that followed Saturday's well-attended screening of the film:
[inaudible audience question about the film’s script, which Golestan wrote during shooting]
What I said was that there was no script written for the whole of the film. I was writing dialogue—I did what they should do—I was writing the dialogue a day or so before, giving time to rehearse it.
The film you saw yesterday [The Secret of the Treasure of Jinn Valley], I did not give them the story, I wrote most of it on the spot because I didn’t want it to leak…but this was not that sort of thing. I would write it a day or so before, they would rehearse it in a way—but, no, no, there was no problem.
But these things, they are not really of any importance if you are serious enough to make a serious film. My aim was not to solve any of these problems. These problems, with the cooperation of the actors…it could be done. How much confidence you could generate in them—it’s not a problem.
Audience member: The scene in the orphanage had a haunting reality about it. Was it shot in a real orphanage?
Of course. Possibly, it came out because of my years of working as a newsreel reporter. I had begun to make newsreels films—items—actually for American television, because in those days, television was not popular throughout the world. There were very few places where they had television. From 1951. I began to make newsreel items for CBS, NBC—then, 1954, I went over to BBC and in 1954 from BBC I went to ITN.
I had all these practices and training, and when I went to this orphanage…the problem in the orphanage, the technical problem, was to light. I did not want to have shadows on the walls; that is stupid. I just wanted to have a kind of available light, but the available light was not enough. In those days the fastest speed would be like 400 ASA, which is not really enough, so I had to use a lot of light, but fix the lamps so that there were no shadows.
Whenever I see it, for instance, in cowboy, in Western films: you see the man in the sunlight passing by and the shadow is passing one way, there is also a second shadow on the wall. [audience laughs] You’ve got the stay within a semblance of reality. But that was the only problem I had in the orphanage.
Audience member: You said that you hadn’t spoken to audiences about your films for some 35 years. I was wondering why that is—do you find the questions…well, they’re not all technical, but, I mean, do you find these kinds of discussions…well, how do you find these kinds of discussions? Is this why it took 35 years before you wanted to speak to audiences?
I never had any discussions with my audiences for the last 35 years because I never had any discussions with audiences anyway about this film [audience laughs] because I was separated from my audience. That’s it—nothing has changed. I believe what I believe, and, perhaps my audience has changed, or it has not changed, I do not know, I have not been in communication with them.
Something which I am forced to tell you now is that this story at the core is the story of—I don’t know if I should say it or not—but it is the story of the human need: do we have a need for a savior? Who is this savior? Is a savior sent to us by some higher authority?
And still it so happens a kid, this baby, is brought in. Towards the end of the film, the girl is telling the man: “We got together and I thought that my life and your life was saved because of that little girl, that baby and I thought that she is a link, she is our savior and now you have snatched her away from me. Now I have to rely on myself, I know that it is me, the human being, who is responsible for his own life. [I] should save [myself] without any help from anybody—just me, my conscience, my view. The time for my relying on some unknown thing, for imagining things, as far as I am concerned is over.”
She says that; perhaps she is wrong—perhaps I am wrong, but that is the film, that is the idea of the character in the film: “From here onwards I am going to see how I can useful.” And that is where she goes into the orphanage to find the factor that she thought is the savior and she realizes that all of those babies could be that and she decides to stay; that shot when she leans on the wall, the camera goes away—as a matter of fact, it is a very much longer shot, another minute and there is nothing except the sound of the outside and the camera is going away, away, away to emphasize that woman’s loneliness in a place where she has realized or she thinks, wrongly or rightly, that she should be dead, that there is nobody coming to do anything for her.
Audience member: Could you talk about the title a little bit? Why you chose it?
The Brick and the Mirror? Well, there is a…are you Iranian?
Audience member: No.
Why is asked you is…well, there is a poet—was a poet—a long time ago. He was killed during the invasion of the Mongols. His name is Attar. Sheik Farid al-Din Attar. He is a wonderful, wonderful poet. He is a great, great poet, and he has written the line [speaks Persian], which means that what an unexperienced sees in a mirror, the young man sees in the mirror, the old man, the experienced person, sees in a mud brick.
It is a mud brick in which you can see what is the world around—if you have the experience. That is the spirit of the title.