Exilied Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s latest film ‘The Gardener’ is an entertaining documentary about a man from Papua New Guinea who tends the Baha’i Gardens in Haifa, Israel. It follows Moshan and his son travelling to Israel, visiting the Baha’i World Centre and exploring the role of religion in today’s world.
Makhmalbaf explained: “In the Middle East, the young generation think that religion destroyed the Middle East. And I try to put from the angle of my age, my generation, why some of them believe in a religion. I try to put light on one of the religions that is a more peaceful religion.”
The film was shot mostly in Haifa and Jerusalem’s Old City. It looks at religion from the perspective of the old and new generations, represented by the film-maker and his son, who often squabble over the role of religion.
An Iranian director making a film in Israel is most unusual. Iranians are not allowed to travel to Israel. Makhmalbaf faces five years in prison should he ever return to Iran.
Makhmalbaf is critical of his country’s rulers: “We believe that after 33 years of the bad regime that we’ve had, we are really for democracy. The problem of Iran is America, European countries are not ready for our democracy. They are thinking only about control atomic bomb. But we think if we could have democratic government, they don’t make atomic bomb.”
Makhmalbaf was honoured as a special guest at the recent Jerusalem Film Festival where some of his most emblematic films including ‘Kandahar’ and ‘Salaam Cinema’ have been showcased. ‘The Gardener’ was warmly received by the audience.
One moviegoer said: “It’s one of the more exquisite films that I have seen in a long time and I think it reflects the spirit of the film-maker, which is peacemaking in every way but also expands your ideas about religion.”
Another audience member commented: “The film itself is wonderful, very poetic, very observing but I think the meaning of him being here is far beyond just the screening of this specific film. I think that he is an incredibly brave person.’
‘The Gardener’ won the Gold Aleph for Best Documentary at the Beirut International Film Festival 2012 and it has been praised by film critics worldwide as one of the most important Iranian films to be released so far this year.