IFFR - MITRA world premiere
2 February 2021
A TALE OF VENGEANCE
In Mitra, which screens in IFFR Limelight, Dutch/Iranian director Kaweh Modiri turns to the story he has carried with him all his life, one of murder, betrayal and a mother's demand for vengeance.
In a film that alternates between post-revolutionary Iran and contemporary Netherlands, Haleh grieves for her firebrand daughter Mitra who was executed by Iranian authorities in 1982. Almost four decades later she discovers that Leyla, the woman that she always suspected of betraying Mitra, may be living in the Netherlands, allegedly under an assumed name and with her own teenage daughter.
But Haleh can't be sure it is Leyla until she hears her voice. It is a voice that she had heard just twice before, 38 years ago on an unclear telephone line and then with her head shrouded as Leyla identified members of Haleh's family during a terrifying police raid.
Haleh sets out therefore to get to know the woman she believes to be her nemesis, before deciding whether to turn her over to an organisation of ruthless emigrés who are determined to avenge the political crimes and executions perpetrated by the Iranian state.
The story in Mitra is one that reflects painfully the experiences of director Modiri's own mother. "Clearly it is a work of fiction in the end, it is a fictionalised story," he says. "But everything that happens in Iran, all the flashbacks that we see which tell the story of the last encounters between Haleh and her daughter, they are very much inspired by reality and are at times very close to how it happened, or how my mum experienced it and told it to me."
The film, produced by BALDR Film, co-produced by Snowglobe, IGC Films, NTR and supported by the Netherlands Film Fund, MDM, Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, DFFF and Danish Film Institute, operates on many levels; as a political thriller, as a story of loss and subsequent grief, as a sister/brother drama played out across four decades, or as a study of a mother/daughter relationship, seen either through the prism of Haleh and Mitra or that of the suspected Leyla and her own daughter Nilu, played superbly Avin Manshadi.
The film is also incredibly tense, such as the core sequence depicting the police raid, and Haleh's first encounter with Leyla. "This is one of the first scenes that I heard as a child, which immediately grasped my attention," says Modiri. "It made me wonder about the intensity of this moment, of being in a room and being blindfolded and having someone brought in to point out everyone she knew. But also the fact that the mother, my mother, has always known who has betrayed her daughter. It made me wonder what would happen if a fictionalised character would really meet this traitor."
Modiri adds that his family's story "is what drove me partially to become a writer, to become a storyteller, to become a filmmaker."
Mitra is filmed in Farsi and is performed by a who's who of Iranian emigré actors that include Germany-based Jasmin Tabatabai (Haleh) and actor/singer Mohsen Namjoo who plays her brother, also called Mohsen. As an ensemble the cast exudes both authority and sublime acting ability.
"There is a shared pain among many Iranians, especially the ones working abroad," underlines Modiri. "The cast's own knowledge and understanding enabled them to achieve the depth and complexity that the film required. There are so many things going on, so many mixed emotions, so much uncertainty, so many existential feelings that are driving these characters, that the quality of their portrayal is key."
"There is no character that is pure and only good," the director adds. "All the characters are tainted. They are all in this in-between land where they cross borders, where they do things that are wrong. That makes them human. That goes for the traitor but it also goes for Haleh. And it goes for Mitra who dies as a martyr fighting for freedom, and for this rebel organisation that we see, 40 years later, is also morally dubious."
Watch trailer: https://vimeo.com/507373453
Mitra P&I screening: Tue 2 Feb 09:00 CET until Fri 5 Feb 09:00 CET
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