“In Iran, my life was shattered overnight due to a stolen video”

Exiled in France since 2008, the Iranian actress received the award for female performance at Cannes. A consecration for this rebellious artist, who dreams of making a film about her extraordinary destiny.

upset the jury cannes film festival for his role in The nights of Mashhad*, from the Danish of Iranian origin Ali Abbasi. at 41, Tsar Amir Ebrahimi plays a journalist investigating the murder of sixteen prostitutes in the holy city of Mashhad. Little known in France, where she lives in exile, the Iranian actress is a legend in her own country. Her Instagram page has almost 500,000 subscribers. When she is traveling in Istanbul, Turkey, Iranian tourists who recognize her on the street bow at her feet. And for good reason: She was the rising star of Iranian cinema, before a sextape scandal prompted her to flee Tehran to avoid jail. Her compatriots, lovers of myths and poetry, compare her to the Phoenix that rises from her ashes. Burned alive, able to get up. And to reveal you.

on video, Mashhad nights, the teaser

Miss Figaro. – Did you expect to receive this award?
Tsar Amir Ebrahimi. – I feel like I’m dreaming. If I look back, everything that happened to me in Iran, my years of exile in France, the difficulties also in doing this. movie – it’s like a miracle. Especially since he wasn’t meant to play the role he had the acting award for. When Ali Abbasi, the director, contacted me in 2018 to work on mashhad nights, it’s like a casting director. I auditioned over 300 people, including fifty actresses for this role. Fifteen days before the start of filming in Jordan, theActress Elected, who lives in Tehran, panicked. She stopped flying for fear that the Islamic regime would harass her on her return. We were devastated. Ali looked at me and said, “Shall we try it with you?”

A role you immediately accepted?
Of course ! After four years of working on the preparations for the film, I felt like I knew this character by heart. I was not won in advance: my fragile appearance did not match the pugnacity of this reporter. But after a few tries and script changes, Ali gave me the part. In addition, he knew the news that inspired this fiction. It was in 2001. He lived in Tehran and everyone was talking about these murders of prostitutes in Mashhad. The worst thing is that some people supported the killer! As an Iranian, this story speaks to me. Also as a woman. Unfortunately, violence against women is universal. In researching for this role, I also realized the sexual harassment suffered by journalists in Iran. I spoke with several of them. They recently made a clip to break this taboo. Today it is important to talk. The cinema can contribute to it.

Is this story of harassment and humiliation also a bit of yours?
In Iran, my life was shattered overnight due to a home video stolen from my laptop that went viral in 2006. I was in shock. A few months earlier, we had filmed ourselves having sex with my ex-boyfriend, and we thought we had deleted this footage. We were young, innocent. Immediately, the threats began to rain down. In the Islamic Republic of Iran, where sex without wedding are prohibited, my daily life has become hell. They treated me with the worst humiliations: virginity tests, citations to the police, to court. They were violating my privacy by calling my friends for questioning. A friend was sentenced to ninety lashes for simply shaking my hand! My career was ruined: after my success in a very popular series, narcissistic, he could no longer play in any movies. I converted to editing, but my colleagues were quickly annoyed. So I started taking photos. But, the day of my exhibition, a guy came to sell DVDs of the video across the street. Two days later, the police closed the gallery. They wanted to prevent me from living, breathing, pushing me to suicide. When I was summoned for my trial in early 2008, my lawyer and parents convinced me to flee Iran. I risked too much, years in prison. France offered me asylum. I left reluctantly. I love my country. I never imagined becoming a refugee.

He was entitled to the worst humiliations: virginity tests, citations to the police, to court

Tsar Amir Ebrahimi

A drama that you would like to adapt to the cinema one day?
As I said in my speech at Cannes, the cinema saved me I say it sincerely. All these months of anguish, living under surveillance, jumping from one call to another, I endured, telling myself: one day I will film it. I had the impression of playing a role, of duplicating myself. Surviving was lying: to my interrogators, one of whom constantly harassed me, to the judge, whom I denied having made this video. During this time, I was conducting my own investigation: I wanted to know who had leaked these images. When I realized who he was, I went to see the judge. I told him, “I have a clue. If you find this person, I’ll admit it’s me, in the video. “Once the person responsible (an Iranian actor, who has since died of cancer, editor’s note) was arrested, the judge called me back. And there, I went back to completely deny everything. I wanted to protect my parents, my family. Years later, in 2019, once I had rebuilt my life in France, I was invited to a program on the MBC channel, in Persian, for the premiere of the film, tomorrow we will be free, by Hossein Pourseifi, in which I acted. The presenter asked me a question. And then he just walked out. I unpacked everything. For the first time, I told everything in the smallest detail. It had the effect of a bomb. I received thousands of messages of support. Hate, too. But I freed myself from a weight.

Fear, danger, exile…: notions that you have integrated since your childhood.
I was born in Tehran, two years after the revolution (1979) and the clerics’ seizure of power, and one year after the start of the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988). These disorders are part of me. We lived from day to day, between life and death, between laughter and tears. As a child, I learned the alphabet on television, because the school had to close for a year. Like all children, I liked this idea of ​​staying at home. Just as I loved this game of hiding in the shelters, in the basement, as soon as the sirens announced a bombing. But I’ll never forget the day I ran over a girlfriend in a panic attack as she ran down the stairs. She broke both her legs and I never saw her again. Even today, I carry this guilt. I also remember that night when my cousins ​​fled Iran forever, afraid of being drafted into the army. And then, we were under constant surveillance. Outside, the vice squad prowled. As soon as we left the house, we had to talk as little as possible and cover ourselves. Once we were driving with my mother. For a minute, she took off her gloves. She passed a police car. They arrested her accusing her of showing her nail polish. At that moment, she traumatized me.

Tsar Amir Ebrahimi in the movie mashhad nights Metropolitan cinema export

Have you always wanted to make movies?
I had the opportunity to take a bath very small in the middle of the cinema. Just a coincidence. We lived in Tehran in the same building as the great director Hamid Samandarian and his wife, Homa Rusta, a film actress. His son was my age. I spent a lot of time with them, where I saw big names in the theater and cinema Very soon, I wanted to be a director. Samandarian told me, “If you want to make movies, you first have to know how to act.” Following his advice, I took acting classes in college. I acted in a first movie, never aired due to censorship. Later, I got roles in TV series that made me famous: narcissistic, a kind of family drama, obtained with extraordinary success. On summer evenings, during its broadcast, people would run home so they wouldn’t miss an episode. In Tehran’s parks there were even open-air projections. I was at the top of my career. I was about to start shooting a new movie. But the video scandal compromised everything.

A year ago I was a star in my country, and now I find myself babysitting with little girls pulling my hair.

Tsar Amir Ebrahimi

How was the integration in France?
With great difficulty! At first she was very lonely. I had to rebuild myself, start over, learn the language. I chained jobs to survive. A year ago I was a star in my country, and now I find myself babysitting with little girls pulling my hair. One day, while working in a restaurant, an Iranian friend recognized me. He offered me to work on the cultural pages of a webzine that he had just launched. Then I started collaborating with the BBC in Persian. In parallel, I acted in some films: tehran taboo, Bride Price Against Democracy

In Iran, authorities have compared the mashhad nights a satanic verses, of Salman Rushdie (at the time covered by a fatwa). Did you expect such a severe reaction?
From the Cannes Film Festival, everyone criticizes him: the Iranian Film Organization, which reports to the Ministry of Culture, the imam of Friday prayers in Mashhad, the official media, not to mention the avalanche of insults on social networks. They accuse the film of being biased, of giving a distorted image of Iranian society, of insulting Shia Islam. But they are based on rumors and not the movie, which they haven’t even seen! The paradox is that there is nothing more true than this film, since it is inspired by a very real story that took place in Iran twenty years ago.

What will this price change for you?
I receive it as an encouragement to continue, for me, but also for other women, other artists, other exiles. Professionally, this will push me to be even more selective in my choices. I hope to be able to enroll in another cinema, beyond the roles of immigrant or foreigner that used to be attributed to me. There, I am about to leave for Australia, for a feature film by Iranian-born filmmaker Noora Niasari, co-produced by Cate Blanchett. It’s a tough but essential film about battered women, in which I play the lead. And eventually I have a dream of making my own movie, inspired by my story.

* Released on July 13.

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