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Mania Akbari - A portrait

Mania Akbari

A mother drives through the streets of Tehran with her 10 years old son. Amin is angry. Years have passed but he still seethes because his mother left his dad. He is constantly accusing her, disrupts her, when she tries to explain and tries to act like an adult. In the confines of the car the situation escalates more and more. Mother and son scream at each other and tear deep wounds into each others psyches.

This is the beginning of Abbas Kiarostamis »Ten«, the brilliant portrait of a world,that is only revealed inside a car. The driver and her son are played by Mania Akbari and her son Amin Maher. The play changes reality. Mania Akbari and Amin Maher are not only acting themselves, they reinvent themselves, overcome reality and find a deeper truth.

Mania Akbari‘s portrait of a woman who defies the political odds and personal circumstances and finds her own way is a glowing commitment to freedom, which has to be won and defended over and over again, not only in Iran.

The 1974 born Mania Akbari fights for freedom, self-determination in life and love, with all of her works. For more than ten years the filmmaker, photographer, painter, actress, video artist and writer has defied the repressive structures and overbearing censorship of modern Iran. She had to finish her films and video works without official recognition or permission. When more and more filmmakers were sent to prison during the past years, she decided to flee to London in 2012.

»Women Do Not Have Breasts«, the film she was working on at the time, could not be finished. The risks for her and her team were too high. From the remaining material she edited the half-length feature »From Tehran to London«. The title alone shows that this is only part of the whole film. The portrait of a couple that has nothing left but hurting and destroying each other is a  radicalized variation of John Cassavetes’ historic marriage dramas from the late 1960s and early 1970s. Mania Akbari dedicated this perfect fragment to all Iranian directors who were in prison or still are.

There is an unbelievable revolutionary power to »From Tehran to London« and all the other works of Mania Akbari. She isn’t even overly political. In the documentation »30 minutes to 6am« she questions regarding the execution of a 17 year old boy the proportion of mercy, revenge, right and religion in Iran. In the short video works »In My Country Men Have Breasts« and »I Slept With My Mother…« her themes are the sad heritage of the Iran-Iraq war. Even this immediate commentary about Iranian society take their freedom to be totally ambivalent. Like her  mentor Abbas Kiarostami she never offers preset answers, but she leads us to new questions, wakes us to doubting the seeming assurances, even those of cinema and art. It is only consistent that her works always tries the border between documentary and fiction, private crisis and social misgivings.

On the surface »10+4«, her 2007 sequel of Kiarostami’s »Ten«, is the document of her fight with cancer. But the incredibly precise dialogue between her and her son, her and her sister and her and a double, played by an actress, always reach far wider than just the personal. The cancer is real and is also a metaphor. On the other hand »20 Fingers« and »One. Two. One.« her episodic feature films displaying archetypical relationship constellations, have almost documentary characteristics. Akbari’s seemingly simple visual language, her love for long  shots and her desire to film in a seemingly improvised fashion are refreshingly  unusual. They open hearts and eyes of the viewer. Her art transcends reality and reveals the underlying structures.