An Interview with Claus Strigel
Two months ago I had this opportunity to see Claus Strigel’s film MOON SUN FLOWER GAME at the Iranian Film Festival in Chicago. It was a fascinating experience!
I must admit that I have been deeply engaged and obsessed to learn about Hossein Mansouri's life -- a great poet living in Munich now-- since Forough Farrokhzad’s death. I wrote a review... then I decided to interview Claus...
MOON SUN FLOWER GAME
A true fairy tale
A film by Claus Strigel
In 1962 the young poetess Forough Farrokhzad visited the lepers at the end of the earth to make a film about their world.
Her film, “The House is Black”, was to become world famous, and, by and by, change a small world too: the world of a small boy who had the good fortune to meet her.
Overnight, the boy is spirited away from the leprosy colony into the midsts of pre-revolutionary Tehranian Bohemia.
A documentary fairy-tale that begins in a north Iranian leprosy colony and winds its way to Munich’s Westend: there the Iranian poet in exile, Hossein Mansouri, goes in search of the boy and discovers a real oriental fable about his own roots and the magical power of words.
E.G: Why did you decide to make a documentary film about Hossein Mansouri, Forough Farrokhzad's adopted son?
How did you know him? And how did you get in touch with him?
C.S: It began as a coincidence and became fate: in 1999 I made a big adventure fiction film, and one of the main characters was played by a wonderful 9- year- old Persian child: Roman Toulany, the adopted son of Hossein Mansouri. (You remember: the skateboard....)
Over the years we kept in touch, and one day I met by coincidence Marzie, his mother. She invited me to a little event with "Some poems and a film you'll never forget," she said.
I was surprised meeting Roman’s father there, reading lyrics of Forough Farrokhzad and showing the unforgettable film "Khaneh siah ast", up to this point I didn't know anything about Forough or about Hossein’s story.
But I was totally fascinated with the poems and the film. That the little boy in the film was Hossein himself, he kept to himself.
But I guessed something....
Well, bit by bit (it took months) Hossein told me his story, which resembled a fictional Hollywood plot.
It took me another three years to get the financing for the film (from German and French TV).
After all that time I was hopelessly involved in Hossein’s life, Forough’s life and with the whole fascinating world of the Farrokhzad family, including the Golestan universe. The documentary I made represents just a small bit of the whole story.... May be some day I'll go further and deeper.
To answer in a shorter way: Is there anyone who could resist getting the whole story when he saw the smiling boy in the black house?
E.G: Were you more fascinated by Forough Farrokhzad's life story or the boy’s?
C.S: I can't separate it into two parts. It's one ,just one of the fascinating points in Forough’s life, that she adopted a little boy she fell in love with although all the circumstances stood against such a decision. (the taste of leprosy, single parenthood, an artist with highs and downs, adption didn't really exist in Iran, etc.). And Hossein as the adopted son and his unbelievable story is the perspective from which the film looks at Forough. And this story is the only way to tell about Forough Farrokhzad, an Iranian poetess that nobody knows in Germany.
E.G: Why is there no mention of Kamyar (Mansouri's half brother) in your film? (unless there is but I missed it!)
C.S: You didn't miss Kamyar; I missed Kamyar: When I was in Tehran we had a meeting arranged, but he wasn't well that day. So we didn't meet.
The story without Kamyar was complicated enough: The byplay of coincidence and fate (one of the background topics of the film) is told out from the perspective of Hossein. And the story is told just by Hossein. I didn't find the right way to tell the story of Kamyar without confusing the audience completely. (Although Forough wrote a great poem to Kamyar)
Also it opens a huge bunch of questions. How could she leave Kamyar? / her own child and stay with her chosen child, the substituted child? / how was Kamyar after the divorce?
Moving questions for Kamyar and Hossein ...
But this is a challenge for another film and a film more about Forough than about Hossein’s Story.
E.G: Tell us about the process of making this documentary in terms of researching, collecting materials, your trip to Iran, meeting those who have been involved with Mansouri etc...
C.S: It was a long way, though the first draft was written in one night: To convince German TV to make a film about an Iranian poetess, there was no way. They said that the German audience doesn’t even know or read German poets.... The only chance was to “sell” the moving story of the adoption of a child living in an Iranian leprosorium. It took me 2 years to get the financing and another half year to convince Hossein Mansouri, because Hossein wanted me to make a film about Forough not about himself. For shooting and editing we had 10 months. Shooting in Iran was a wonderful experience. We found only very helpful and gentle people. Even everybody even in the streets gave us the sign: You’re welcome! Mehrdad Farrokhzad (one of the younger brothers of Forough and his wife Diana showed us everything in the city with an unbelievable hospitality.
E.G: As far as I know, your film is the first film in the history of international cinema which reveals the mystery behind Hossein Mansouri's life and his relationship with Forough Farrokhzad. Aside from the geographical context, how do you see such a relationship?
C.S: Even without the Persian context and without knowing anything about Forough Farrokhzad and her position in Persian culture: IT IS A GREAT STORY!
And for the non- Iranian audience the moving story opens the door for more: Forough’s life, Forough’s poetry, Forough as a pioneer to change gender relations in Iran, and the extraordinary relationship of the Iranian people to their poets. Hossein Mansouri believes that his MOON-SUN-FLOWER-GAME statement changed his fate. "That is the magical power of words- just words change your life"
E.G: Tell us about the form and style of directing and editing this film. Did you have a certain technique in your mind, or did the story itself shape the form?
C.S: First the story shaped my mind and then I had the clear feeling I had to tell it with this dirty shaky camera and jump cuts. The camera seems not to be prepared, searching, looking, shifting... You never know what's next. A camera style of uncertainty resembling Josef Campbell's "Uncertainty of being." This was the impression I had when Hossein told me his story bit by bit. THE BOY: He never said "I", when he told of the time before his adoption. "My first perception of Forough was her voice". After 20 minutes runtime the first time Hossein takes the "I" instead of calling himself the boy. And before that you can't be sure, whether the adult Mansouri is the boy of the black house.
I like the optical effects like mixing Munich’s Westend with Tehran’s Bazar, as if it were the same town. I like it because it tells the audience never to trust their eyes, to be aware of surprises happening surprises every moment, that it pays to look sharp.
E.G: Tell us one of the memorable, surprising moments happened while making this film.
C.S: The very first evening, when I and my assistant arrived in Tehran for some research, I had the chance to have a look in the family archive of Farrokhzads. A lot of postcards Forough has written during her trip in Europe .... The first postcard I had a look at was written by Forough to a friend, I think in 1958. There was a picture of Munich on it. I live in Munich, so I looked closer. (attached is the image of the Postcard)
Forough wrote her return address on the back, where she obviously lived for a time:
The address is exactly the address of my home in Munich, the apartment underneath my apartment, where I’ve lived for 30 years. ( Well, in 1958 I was three years old and didn’t live not there).
There you are: Moon Sun Flower Game a film about coincidence and fate.
E.G: How has the international audience reaction been towards your film?
C.S: The response with audiences of mixed nationalities has been especially wonderful. I think because if you had to leave your home (country) you are very sensitive to the topics Hossein has to deal with: Where are my roots? Who am I? What's my nationality? Where am I going? Etc. etc.
At this moment I'm traveling back from a MOON SUN FLOWER GAME show in a cinema in Hamburg. It was a wonderful, sensitive, excited audience, and they didn't go home even after a long discussion. I wonder if it would have been like this, if it had been just a German audience, because 90% were Iranian.
In Germany it was the first public screening after the premiere at the International Film Festival Hof. In the United States the film had gone from town to town since the beginning of 2008. (Houston-San Antonio-Chicago-Boston....) If I had a distributor in the USA it would be much easier to get the film screened because I have the worldwide TV, DVD and cinema rights yet available.
E.G: Dear Claus; You Have Made an Important Film! Thank you...