Nights of Mashhad: “This film is a miracle”

Nights of Mashhad: “This movie is a miracle”


Last May, Zahra Amir Ebrahimi became the first Iranian woman to win an interpretation award at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival thanks to her performance in the thriller Les nights of Mashhad. Yet the 41-year-old actress has never received congratulations from the Iranian government. Instead, she received threats. 

It is that this film by director Ali Abbasi (Border), which tells the true story of a serial killer who preyed on prostitutes in the holy city of Mashhad in the early 2000s, was condemned by the Iranian government, which accused the work of following “the same path taken by Salman Rushdie in the Satanic Verses  ;”. The feature film was shot in Jordan to avoid coming up against Iranian censorship.  

“If I had been born in any other country, I would have been entitled to congratulations from the government. But the day after the award was presented at Cannes, Iran's Minister of Culture instead made a public statement saying that the people who participated in this film should be punished,” says Zahra Amir Ebrahimi, in a interview granted by videoconference last month.

“I think it really pissed off the Iranian government that we managed to make an Iranian film without being censored. My presence on stage, at the Cannes closing ceremony, also bothered them a lot. I subsequently received a lot of threats and hateful comments on social media. You get used to it, but it still hurts.”

Forced exile

It must be said that relations between Zahra Amir Ebrahimi and Iran have been strained for a long time. In 2008, the actress, then a rising star of Iranian cinema, fled her native country to avoid prison after being the victim of the publication of a sex video shot with her partner at the time. She went into exile in France where her acting career had to start from scratch.

In Les nuits de Mashhad, Zahra Amir Ebrahimi slips into the skin of a journalist from Tehran who travels to Mashhad to write a series of articles on the disappearance of several prostitutes. By pushing her investigation further, she will try herself to unmask the serial killer responsible for these murders who has given himself the mission of “cleaning up” the city.

Atmosphere of fear

Zahra Amir Ebrahimi was studying theater at a university in Tehran when this serial killer spread terror in the streets of Mashhad, in 2000. 

“I have a really strong memory of it. Before this story, there was another serial killer who killed women in Tehran, where I lived. I remember that there was an atmosphere of fear in the city. The story of the Mashhad killer lasted longer. It took a year before they stopped him. After a while, it even felt like someone high up was supporting him.”

Ironically, Zahra Amir Ebrahimi first started working for the production of Nights of Mashhad as casting director. Then, when the actress who had been chosen to defend the main role of the film withdrew at the last minute, Zahra Amir Ebrahimi made a test in the skin of the character. Director Ali Abbasi finally decided to give him the role.

“I found in the character a part of me, because I have very strong links with this story, details- she. It's a miracle that we managed to make this film despite all the pitfalls we had. This film is a miracle. ”

♦ Nights of Mashhad hit theaters yesterday.< /p>