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Hend Sabry and Golshifteh Farahani: Story of resistance through cinema

Written by Amal Asebriy

Hend Sabry and Golshifteh Farahani, two insightful actresses from different backgrounds shared the stage on Monday, December 2nd, 2019, for a 90min conversation with French producer Jean-luc Ormières , at the Marrakech Film Festival.

One is Tunisian (Hend Sabry), the other is Iranian (Golshifteh Farahani). They had never met before, but little did these two impressive actresses know that they had more things in common than one.Hend Sabry, at the age of 14, appeared in the Tunisian film Samt Al Qoussour, before being spotted by Inas El Degheidy, who opened the doors to Egyptian and Arab cinema. Golshifteh Farahani began her career as an actress in Iran, almost at the same age, before seducing the foreign public, thanks to the director Ridley Scott, then exile in France to feed her free spirits. With respectable filmographies, the two multi-award-winning actresses were part of the prestigious Jury of the Venice Film Festival. Golshifteh Farahani also served as a member of the FIFM jury in 2013.

The beginnings

The two actresses have revealed to have entered the field in completely different ways. “At the beginning of my career, my father, himself an actor, was against me doing cinema. He shunned me for two months. He wanted me to pursue music instead,” explained Golshifteh Farahani whose father is a famous actor.

“Unlike Golshifteh, it was my parents who wanted me to do cinema, not me. Director Nouri Bouzid had seen me at a birthday party and told my father about it. I wanted to become a diplomat, I did not even know I had an artistic fiber in me. I was not the first choice of casting, but I did it anyway, without the ambition to continue,” said Hend Sabry.

Exile
In the early 2000s, the two actresses left their home countries. For Hend Sabry: “After Samt Al Qoussour, I had dreams and a path drawn far from the cinema. But it ended up catching me. Director Inès Deghaidy called me to play in “Diary of a teenager”. In Tunisia, I did not bathe in the Arab culture, I did not speak Egyptian. In addition, I went from an artisanal author cinema to the Hollywood Arabic star-system. Inès is a well-known director, courageous and opposed to conservatism, who already made headlines: if I knew her before, I might have been scared. Subsequently, I was very quickly careful not to be the Tunisian who plays roles that conservative Egyptians refused.

The exile story of Golshifteh Farahani is significantly different. She says: “When Ridley Scott contacted me, with difficulty indeed, I asked who he was (laughs)! I had never auditioned before. I was taken for “Body of Lies”, even though because of the embargo, it was forbidden to sign with an Iranian actress. All naively, I returned just after filming and I found myself trapped in Iran, for seven months, accused of treason because I played with the Americans. While waiting for the release of the film, I played in “About Elly”, which was initially censored because of me. Following this, I left Iran by a miracle.”

Resistance

The two actresses then went back and forth on their respective engagements in the cinema and in life. “It’s funny when I look back at my filmography, I often wonder why I’m always playing struggling and saddened characters. I would love to play the role of a superficial and cheerful woman who goes shopping in Saint-Germain des Près. But every time there is mud and misery, they call me and I go! But it’s enough that I look at my mother, my grandmother and the women who are not free individuals in society, who carry the weight of honor and guilt, to understand that it comes from deep within. And I hope one day to get rid of this curse, not to pass it on to my daughter, to future generations, “says Golshifteh Farahani.

Same story for Hend Sabry, who adds: “I never took it as a duty or a burden upon me to talk about women. It’s interesting and very liberating for me that all these oriental women find themselves in the characters that I embody. I regret, however, a lack of diversity in the representation of Eastern women.”

The gender, again!At the end of the session, Jean-Luc Ormières asked the two guests for their opinions on the issue of gender and positive discrimination in the cinema.
For Hend Sabri: “This is the question of the century! I say it loud and clear: Quotas and freedom do not merge well. In addition, I have worked with men who have a great feminine sensibility and women who make men’s films. For me, it’s not a question of sex. But I am completely for equal access to funds, funding to allow women to make films. ”

“Like Hind, I do not make a difference between women directors and men directors. This is not a fight of women against men, but a fight of women and men against ignorance. I am opposed to all separations, whether of gender or origin,” Golshifteh Farahani said.

Life lesson

“In the cinema we play, as in real life, our personality and character are roles that we have been attributed, but we do not realize it and we forget to be present, we take ourselves too seriously”,  Golshifteh Farahani concluded.

“I like this quote a lot, why take life seriously, we will not come out of it alive anyway.” Hind Sabry joined her colleague in her opinion. “Art the most beautiful thing than mankind has created”.

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