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