Me, Maryam, the Children and 26 Others: Farshad Hashemi unveils the daily confines of Iranian women

Me, Maryam, the Children and 26 Others: Farshad Hashemi unveils the daily confines of Iranian women
6 min read
14 March, 2024

Iranian director Farshad Hashemi's debut movie, Me, Maryam, the Children and 26 Others, is getting a lot of attention. Premiered at the International Film Festival in Rotterdam, the film has gone on to receive acclaim and was awarded the Ingmar Bergman International Debut Award at the Göteborg Film Festival.

Although he is a debutant, Farshad is certainly not a newcomer to the world of art. In addition to his background in civil engineering, he has been working in the art industry since he was eighteen, gaining prominence as both an actor and an assistant director. Farshad studied filmmaking at the Iranian Youth Cinema Society in Isfahan and then moved to Tehran to work as an assistant director in both theatre and cinema. 

"My introduction to art was through theatre," explains Farshad to The New Arab. "So I feel a particular attachment to it. I've always been obsessed with the boundaries between truth and imagination. I got this from working on stage. Now I want to blur the boundaries of reality and fiction in film."

"Over the past few decades, showing daily life in Iran has not been possible in cinema. We dared to do it"

For more than a decade, Farshad has been writing and acting in plays and has appeared many times on screen and made several independent short films, one of which became the inspiration for his debut film. 

Me, Maryam, the Children and 26 Others tells the story of a young woman who allows a film crew to shoot a film in her house, breaking her solitude. Their arrival ends up causing a profound internal transformation. The woman, played by Mahboubeh Gholami — who uses her own name in the film — also appears alongside Farshad, who plays one of the filming crew. The idea, Farshad tells us, is for the film to mirror real-life events. 

"The idea came to me when I was involved in making a shot film in Mahboubeh's house as a production manager. Our main character is the same Mahboubeh whose house we rent in real life to make a short film. When I discussed the idea of making a full feature film with her, she agreed."

A 'film within a film'

When The New Arab asked Farshad if he was influenced by notable cinema classics involving metafictional self-reflections on film shoots such as François Truffaut’s La Nuit Américaine (1973), Farshad admits that he was so engrossed with the film that he didn't have time to rewatch thematically similar films. "It only took four months to make, from the moment of the idea to the end of shooting."

"Choosing the structure of a 'film within a film' was essential for us, both in form and in content," continues Farshad. "As we gradually realise throughout the plot, Mahboubeh is someone who has lost her trust in people. She's become reclusive, she lives in solitude and has chosen to distance herself from the outside world. The presence of a film crew in her house and the build-up of mutual understanding are the main drivers of her revival," Farshad tells The New Arab

"I believe cinema has the power to create a therapeutic environment," explains Farshad. "In this case, the main character is engaged by her imagination which allows her to bring other elements into her life. We tried to reflect this cathartic effect in the film. The film also serves as a humble tribute to the worlds of cinema and art." 

Live Story

Being both writer and director, Farshad's goal was to create a genuine portrayal of life in Iran. "This life has, at times, eluded us, hidden beneath the veil of censorship in Iranian cinema," elaborates the filmmaker in his Director's statement. 

Indeed, the most captivating thing about Me, Maryam, the Children and 26 Others is its authentic atmosphere that allows the viewer into the intimate world of Mahboubeh in her home, just as how she allowed the film crew in. As such, one of the most difficult tasks of the film was to create a tangible representation as close as possible to the reality of living in Iran. 

"We tried to remain truthful to our reality by considering the casting and deciding on the costumes, set design, make-up and shooting style. Except for a few experienced actors, most of the cast are non-professionals and was their first time in front of a camera," says Farshad. "For example, the night guard, Navid, is played by himself. I appear as myself too, and most importantly, Mahboubeh plays herself.

"Over the past few decades, showing daily life in Iran has not been possible in cinema. We dared to do it. The simple relationships between men and women, wearing and not wearing the hijab based on beliefs, the various types of female clothes we displayed, the presence of pets, each are important characteristics of the Iranian way of being which I wanted to transfer on screen," explains Farshad to The New Arab. 

How to avoid Iranian censorship

Me, Maryam, the Children and 26 Others takes place almost exclusively in the interior. Except for a few outdoor scenes, the main bulk of the story takes place within the confines of the home. 

"The concept of home has significant implications for us in terms of storytelling," clarifies Farshad. We were lucky that our plot didn't really include many exterior scenes because we were shooting the film in a very specific political period in Iran. Even filming those outdoor scenes was stressful."

Live Story

Before heading to Rotterdam and Gotheborg, Me, Maryam, the Children and 26 Others was shown by the Independent Filmmakers Union of Iran at the Marche du Film (Cannes Film Market), and received a warning from authorities for not observing the Islamic Republic's censorship laws, including the mandatory hijab for female actors.

When asked if he expects to have further issues, Farshad jokes to The New Arab that he hasn't committed a crime so he's trying not to worry, even if this perspective is optimistic. 

"I went out to make a film the way I like. Regarding the hijab, I wanted to honour diverse perspectives. A character who chose not to wear the hijab in Iran holds as much significance as someone who has embraced it. Fundamentally, our goal is to depict a spectrum of personal choices, beliefs, and lifestyles in the film, a dimension sadly lacking in the widespread contemporary depiction of Iranian society."

Additional reporting/translation from Roozbeh Seyedi

Mariana Hristova is a freelance film critic, cultural journalist, and programmer. She contributes to national and international outlets and has curated programs for Filmoteca De Catalunya, Arxiu Xcèntric, goEast Wiesbaden, etc. Her professional interests include cinema from the European peripheries and archival and amateur films