The Movie Waffler Interview - ATABAI Director Niki Karimi | The Movie Waffler

Interview - ATABAI Director Niki Karimi

niki karimi interview
The Iranian filmmaker discusses her latest work.

Interview by Benjamin Poole

Atabai takes us into a world of tradition, hopes and expectation. Kazem (Hadi Hejazifar) returns from a business trip to discover that his brother-in-law has sold his orchard to a stranger, Shirazi. Kazem finds himself falling in love with Shirazi's daughter (Sahar Dolatshahi) but first must face his past. With its intertwined use of Azari and Farsi languages, alongside the fabulous landscapes of North West Iran, this film brings a fresh perspective to Iranian cinema and seeks to build bridges between generations and communities.

Atabai poster

Hello Niki! Congratulations on the forthcoming release of Atabai. As an incurable romantic and a person at the whim of their emotions (much like Atabai’s central character Kazem) I found a lot to enjoy in the film. I consider love as a poison, in some ways. Once it is in your heart it can cause such pain, unless you are fortunate enough to find the antidote of reciprocated feelings. A bit like Kazem, perhaps, sometimes I wish I had never fallen in love, but it’s too late now - it is in my system. How would you define the presentation of love in Atabai?

I do agree that love is considered as a complex matter most of the time. It makes us feel real emotion and true to ourselves. Love is one of the elements that I depicted in Atabai; desperation, sorrow, pain and lack of self-confidence are, for instance, some of the human issues that I undertake in this film. Meanwhile, it is the slogan of the film that "Love Will Save Us". Kazem was a student at university but he declined this love and this moment so that he could find his beloved. Time passes and he lets himself fall in love but it fails again. There are a myriad of psychological reasons why he loses his first love and the second one at the end. He is so selfish and avaricious, he decides not to communicate with the beloved from his society and class. However, he discovers forgiveness and becomes a better man when he falls in love for the second time, and this is the presentation of Love in this film. The audience will accompany him and understand him once he falls in love.

Atabai is an intensely talkative film, with scenes built upon shared intimacy and honest exchanges between characters. It seems to me that communication, sincere and candid, is a major aspect of the film. I read that the characters speak in a blend of different languages, which would contribute neatly to this theme. I wonder if you wouldn’t mind talking a little about this feature of Atabai, please?

This film is only in two languages. Turkish is the main language of the film and also the language of the people of that area. Farsi is the second language which is used between the people who have migrated there from Tehran. Yes, the film is full of dialogue in some moments, although there are signs and symbols to convey the concepts. However the characters need to talk about themselves in order to make something clear like the memories from past times, the confessions and the moments when people are drawn to each other which is why the movie tries to get close to the audience and let them get familiar with the characters.

Along with the character drama, Atabai has a striking visual dynamic. It is beautiful to look at. In what ways does the backdrop of Northern Iran contribute to the meaning of Atabai?

This film is about human solitude in a region or environment, I think solitude and love are beautiful and dramatic, I believe that the picture should lead the audience to a dream or imagination which is about a situation that unsettles a man with his anxiety, pain and love; it must be depicted beautifully. The beauty of the region lets us reach out to these issues although, of course, it is possible to consider it differently. It is set in the north west of Iran and we intentionally chose this area.

I found the references to the culture of the village fascinating- there is a skipping game where the men play with a whip, and the sequence where two characters burn a tyre is also intriguing. Could you elaborate upon these aspects of Atabai please? I find them fascinating!

I didn’t want to make it completely local.  However, I think it looks amazing to me and fascinating to the audience who will witness the local culture of that area including the game that the locals play where they have to jump over the crack of the whip. Or I can talk about the layers of the fire which we see when Atabai (Kazem) meets his friends and they revisit the past by looking back on their memories as they begin to act like children. It's a pastime that children may do in that village or other countries around the world with the fire being, at the same time, a symbol or sign that reminds us of the suicide of Atabai’s sister.

If you could programme Atabai in a triple bill with two other movies, what films would they be and where would Atabai fall in the line-up?

This question is a bit complicated and it's what l am eager to hear from you and the critics to see what you think about this film. Meanwhile, l like the movies by Theo Angelopoulos, Bergman or the filmmakers who have similar ideology and style of filmmaking. I am so eager to know your comments and feedback.

Atabai is in UK cinemas now.