The Movie Waffler Interview - TEHRAN: CITY OF LOVE Writer/Director Ali Jaberansari | The Movie Waffler

Interview - TEHRAN: CITY OF LOVE Writer/Director Ali Jaberansari

tehran city of love
The Iranian filmmaker discusses his acclaimed new drama.

Interview by Benjamin Poole

Writer/director Ali Jaberansari's Tehran: City of Love focusses on three disenchanted characters all in pursuit of happiness: an ex-champion bodybuilder, an overweight beauty clinic secretary and a dispirited religious singer who yearn for love and connection in a city that does not embrace them.

tehran city of love poster

Hello Ali! امیدوارم این ایمیل شما را از سلامتی و روحیه خوبی پیدا کند. In a literal sense it is possible to describe Tehran: City of Love as a rom-com, as romance is a central theme, and the film is certainly funny (no spoilers, but a joke which made me laugh involved Hessam answering the phone - you know the bit!). However, in many ways the film is the very antithesis of the rom-com genre: love in Tehran: City of Love is ephemeral and not to be trusted, and the comedy is very dark. The protagonists are heartbreakingly lonely, and seek a partner, hoping to be saved from their solitude rather than to experience the fairytale love of rom-coms. Is this a fair reading? Is Tehran: City of Love in any way a reaction to the glossy disingenuousness of rom-coms?

I like to think of the film more as a tragicomedy. In a way, I’m hoping that there’s more substance to it than a typical rom-com. More existential in a way. For me there’s an absurd humour in the fact that we as human beings strive for happiness and love as if it’s a solid state that you reach where all your problems are solved. But that’s not the case and as soon as you think you’ve reached happiness, life throws new things at you and you might feel that you're back where you started. This futile endeavour has been and still is a great source of inspiration for me. Furthermore, the theme of unrequited love is a prominent theme in Persian poetry and literature and it’s part of our DNA. We as Iranians seem to thrive more on being separated from the beloved than when we are happily consuming our love. Most of our poetry and literature comes from the yearning for love. Our famous Persian poet, Rumi, spent 40 days with his beloved Shams, but spent the rest of his life writing poetry yearning and longing for his beloved who left him and disappeared. So I also wanted to draw on this prominent trait in our culture and add a little bit of humour to it.

My favourite storyline involved Hessam and his tentative adoration of his student. A lovely, poignant and very gentle portrayal of affection. Iran’s legislation has a very poor attitude to the LGBTQ+ community, and this factor is an added (perhaps decisive) element of this narrative strand. I wonder if you wouldn’t mind talking a little about Hessam and his sexuality? How does his situation differ from Mina and Vahid’s?

Let me not go into too much detail on Hessam’s story as I hope that the images speak for themselves and don’t need further explanation. But I will say that Hessam’s longing for love and connection is not much different than Vahid and Mina. They are all estranged from the society they live in, each in their own way and perhaps they are in some ways estranged from themselves. Our hope as writers and my hope as director was to convey that by the end of the film, all three characters might end up lonely, but they have hopefully learned something more about themselves.

While watching Tehran: City of Love I couldn’t help but think of this quote from Douglas T. Kenrick’s seminal essay 'A Dynamical Evolutionary View of Love': "Is each type of love a separate emotion, in the sense of anger or fear, that comes into play whenever a particular domain of problems is activated?" to which Kenrick then goes on to add, "For example, is passionate love the motivational component of the mate search executive system?" They are interesting questions! How far could you apply them to Tehran: City of Love?

Interesting quote and I’m glad that the film has brought up this kind of discussion. I’m not sure if I understand the quote completely out of context as I haven’t read the essay. But if it means that each love is a response to a particular emotion or perhaps lack of an emotion in a person, then I’d agree with that. At the end of the day, our lives are ultimately meaningless and we give them meaning based on our own philosophy and frame of mind. And so far, the best way known to mankind for providing that meaning and getting through this vast ocean of meaninglessness and absurdity is love and connection. And I agree that each of us feels the emptiness in our own way but ultimately the desire and the need is universal. I’m not exactly sure what is meant by "mate search executive system," but if I’m guessing correctly, I do agree that our modern way of life has perhaps led to more anxiety and fear and therefore love has become more of an alleviation of that fear and anxiety rather than a positive force for fulfilment and growth.

At the start of the year, a friend of mine was left by her husband. I’m sorry to say that she is still not completely over it. I wonder if, having completed a film which looks at the various ways people can be heartbroken, you may have some advice for her please?

My advice would be for her to watch the film. Hopefully, it'll give her a sense that she is not alone and life will always be full of surprises.

Over to you! I really enjoyed Tehran: City of Love and my review says as much. But what do you think? Why should readers of The Movie Waffler take a visit to Tehran: City of Love?

I’m not very good at marketing my work, but I hope that the film resonates with anyone who has fallen in and out of love. I’m also hoping that those people who are lured by the title and want to see a film about Tehran, find a different image of modern Tehran and find that whether in Tehran or London or New York, we are all connected by our universal longing for love and connection with our fellow human beings.

Tehran: City of Love is in UK cinemas October 11th.