Interview with David Bordwell
A Wonderful Source of Outstanding Films
David Bordwell, the famous and creditable film critic of the past two decades, is also familiar with the Internet and runs an active weblog where he puts his latest ideas on films and cinema. During recent years, Iranian critics and translators have translated and published his books and articles which have had a great impact on film literature in Iran. Bordwell was in a festival in Hong Kong not long ago where he watched three Iranian movies and wrote appreciative notes on Asghar Farhadi’s About Elli and Abbas Kiarostami’s Shirin. His notes caused our colleagues in “cinemaema” website to contact him. The following is text of his interview with Armin Ebrahimi and Farid Abbasi. We have asked questions about East Asian cinema, on which Bordwell specializes, and his concerns about the Iranian cinema. We have also inquired about online film critique and filmmakers who still motivate him to write.
On Iranian cinema
Film International: How seriously do you take the Iranian cinema? Do you think it is just the product of a particular exotic and probably interesting culture or you think that it has artistic autonomy?
David Bordwell: I take Iranian cinema very seriously. I think that since the 1990s, it has proven to be a wonderful source of outstanding films—valuable not just as reflections of a culture, but also as intrinsically powerful artworks. I consider Kiarostami, Makhmalbafs (father and daughter), and many of their colleagues to be among the finest filmmakers working today.
FI: How much of admiration for the Iranian cinema from foreign film festivals and critics is related to geographic and political conditions of Iran and how much to its natural effects?
DB: I think that most foreign critics have responded to films as films. After all, most viewers outside the country have limited knowledge of its culture, but the films have proven quite easy to understand and appreciate on purely cinematic grounds.
FI: Which popular Iranian movies have you seen? I mean the mainstream movies whose quality is higher than regular ones screened in festivals and those which are more complicated for their theme.
DB: I don't think that I have seen any mainstream popular Iranian film since the 1970s.
FI: Are you interested in watching new Iranian movies? We've seen that a lot of technically poor movies are accepted by foreign festivals because of their themes. Is this an advantage for the Iranian cinema?
DB: I definitely remain interested in the Iranian cinema today. At the last Hong Kong Film Festival, I have seen three recent Iranian films and none seemed technically deficient.
FI: Do you know that your articles and books have been translated in Iran during the past 10 years and they have had a great effect on the Iranian film literature?
DB: I was vaguely aware that some of my writings have been translated in Iran, but I'm not aware of its having any influence.
FI: You've praised “About Elli”. Do you think it's just another Iranian movie or an international film with no borders? Can we consider it an international movie made in 2009? I mean what do you think about it: a film with international qualities or one belonging to a specific culture?
DB: I would say that About Elli is very definitely a film that speaks to an international audience. The psychological and emotional qualities of the situation and the reactions of the characters can be easily understood by viewers from outside Iran. Perhaps, only the matter of the engagement with Elli's suitor would seem unusual to some viewers, but that is clearly explained in the film—or at least so it seemed to me. The fact that the film just won the top award at Tribeca Film Festival would seem to indicate that it speaks powerfully to US viewers.
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