31 Aug 2000
By: Hugh Davies in Venice
The Venice Film Festival opened last night with the principal guests, Sharon Stone and Clint Eastwood, almost upstaged by a young woman from Iran.
Appearing on the Lido Esplanade, Samira Makhmalbaf, at the age of 20 Teheran's youngest film director, had the paparazzi eating out of her hands as she posed in a black chador-like garb and simple sandals.
She is a member of two juries judging entries. Alongside her were Claude Chabrol and Milos Forman, legendary names to generations of cinema buffs. She put her arm around Jennifer Jason Leigh, the actress, who had poured herself into tight steel-studded leather trousers.
With the pair was the extremely svelte Chiara, actress daughter of the late Marcello Mastroianni and Catherine Deneuve. It was her dress, ordered by clerics whose revolution wiped centuries of Persian history from the map, together with the articulate way she talked of her dealings with the censors of Teheran, that resulted in Makhmalbaf quietly stealing the show.
While there was madness on the seafront when Stone arrived to hand a prize for lifetime achievement to Eastwood, Makhmalbaf's quiet dignity set the tone for what looks like Venice's most intriguing movie gathering. As Glasgow's blunt-spoken Trainspotting star, Peter Mullan, raved about her to a media gathering, Makhmalbaf stood in a corridor, away from the hubbub, to speak.
Born in Teheran - "one year after the revolution" - she is the daughter of the director Mohsen Makhmalbaf. When she was 17 he asked for her help in making his breakthrough film The Silence. At 18, she directed a movie of her own, The Apple. She has made a second film, Takhte Siah, a story of teachers carrying blackboards on their backs between villages in search of students.
Censorship on "ideas" still firmly existed, said Makhmalbaf. "But it is getting better. My movies can be shown - if they are not censored," she added. "At the beginning, there was a much different way of censoring films. For example, they would see a film six or seven times before deciding it could be shown. Now, it is just one time, after you make your movie. At least you can do the filming. Then the government examines it."
As a new voice in the entertainment industry, Makhmalbaf's air of calm, amid festival chaos, was equal to that of Eastwood. Now 70, he seemed as serene as ever. As for finally winding up a big screen career that started in Italy with spaghetti Westerns, he said: "Oh no. I have threatened to retire for the last decade. Maybe I'll threaten for another decade."
In a modest leopard-skin print evening dress, Stone sashayed on to the festival stage to greet Eastwood as the "king of the jungle". Actors had learned to listen to Eastwood, to "show off" like him and take note of his "soulful and decent" spirit, said Stone. Eastwood looked at his award, nodded to himself and muttered, in his trademark drawl: "That's cool."
Source: The Telegraph , 31 Augest 2000