Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s The Gardener

Renown Iranian director and film-maker Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s recent work is simply titled “The Gardener” but it is about a topic anything but simple.

The garden, or gardener, in question is Eona, a Papua New Guinea gardener working at the Baha’i World Centre gardens on Mount Carmel, Haifa. And the film is an attempt to introduce to Iranian audiences, who may have only heard half-truths, propaganda or outright lies, to the Baha’i Faith.

Makhmalbaf says: “Many of us Iranians know more about religions and schools of thought from Indian, Chinese, or Japanese origin than religions that have grown out of Iran. Maybe this has been willed by censorship. The Gardener is an attempt to break this censorship.”

But the film, produced in a surreal docu-drama style, goes beyond that. Through the two perspectives offered by the father and son team of Mohsen and Maysan Makhmalbaf the audience is presented with the two starkly contrasting attitudes of Iranians today towards not only the Baha’i Faith specifically but religion in general.

Nor surprisingly, the newer generation is sick and tired of religion, having had their fill of it through the suffocating theocratic Islamic government of Iran. The older generation still cling to the ideal that religion can be a positive force in the world. The dialectic nature of the film succeeds in drawing in the audience and engaging them on a very deep and personal level.

Makhmalbaf hasn’t been very popular with the Islamic regime and this recent work will make him even less so.

Audience reactions at premiere:

IMDB page

Makhmalbaf has dedicated his prize from the 30th Jerusalem Film Festival to the Baha’i gardener featured in his film, Guillaume Nyagatare from Rwanda.

  • Eric Pierce

    (duplicate commentary from elsewhere)

    re: bahai authoritarians and fundamentalists

    In historical terms, this likely reflects the “bowler hat” phenomena under late colonial societies in the middle east: pro-western elements such as bahaists took on the role of serving the western colonial powers, keeping “backward” mystical tendencies as well as radically revolutionary elements under control (in the name of an imported, western model of techno-economic progress with its individual-achievement/striver values orientation).

    The “bowler hat” bahais certainly used all of those kinds of opportunities to socially advance. Unfortunately the price they paid was that the original revolutionary and mystical roots of the religion were badly damaged. Instead of being a mighty forest healing an unhealthy social ecosystem, it became a bonsai, a fascinating curiosity in a small pot displayed on a shelf and regularly pruned and pampered by control freaks.

    Oddly, there is a sort of Jungian shadow that is projected around “materialism” by the authoritarian “bowler hat” faction that runs bahai administration. The very thing that is in their own ugly, dark hearts is what they most demonize in others. I suppose that serves the purposes of distracting people from that dark truth.

  • Aaron_of_Portsmouth

    Somewhere along the way in your travels, your ego seems to have gotten bruised. Thus, the rant.

    And by the way, it’s Baha’is, not bahaists, the latter being some mysterious anglicized derivation.

  • AmadodeDios

    Incredible metaphor! (forest vs. bonsai…)

    Every day of our lives, we have to work to avoid bowdlerizing (almost “bowler hat”!) the Faith, and to undo the confusion we’ve sown by understanding less in the past than we do now!