Edinburgh International Film Festival 2014: Mark Cousins and Mania Akbari's Life May Be takes inspiration from 19th Century letter novels

EIFF 2014 - Mark Cousins and Mania Akbari's Life May Be takes inspiration from 19th Century letter novels

Life May Be

EIFF 2014 features two strands dedicated to Iranian cinema

This year’s Film Festival features a special focus on cinema from Iran. Included in the programme is a new work by local filmmaker Mark Cousins and Tehran-born director Mania Akbari. They answered our questions about their ‘film letter’ Life May Be and the joys of Iranian cinema

How would you describe Life May Be?

Mark: The film is an old-fashioned letter piece – like Les Liaisons Dangereuses or Pamela by Samuel Richardson, radically updated to the digital age and with modern themes – Iran, exiles, nudity, etc.

Mania: It’s a ‘happening film’ resulting from an encounter between two individual approaches to form, story, rhythm, sound and movement. On these correspondences, our pen is form and movement, and as we advance through life and images, we reveal secrets and expose the private. In the process, this incredible revelation joins a bigger picture which can be called cinema.

The format of the Life May Be must have yielded some unexpected results: what was the most surprising thing you learned during the making of the film?

Mark: The joy of corresponding, or surprising the person you are writing to; the intimacy of filming alone; that the old dream of the ‘camera-stylo’ – the camera pen – has come true; and for me personally, I discovered that Mania has a brilliant mind.

Mania: Waiting for the reply, for the next film / letter to arrive was the most unexpected, the strangest of feelings. That waiting period was the most unusual, almost like splitting a moment. It had anguish in it which could scar the soul. When the film replies arrived at my door, I was like a kid receiving a present, running in the streets, feeling naked. 

Which other filmmakers (alive or dead) would you like to see in correspondence with each other?

Mark: Carl Theodor Dreyer and Lars Von Trier; Alice Guy Blache and Jane Campion; George Melies and George Lucas; Claire Denis and Jean Cocteau.

Mania: Forough Farrokhzad and Vera Chytilová (especially if they cc Agnès Varda in their correspondence).

What excites you about Iranian cinema today?

Mark: The Iranian documentaries that I am seeing are so less steroid-y than pumped up western docs in general are, more lithe. Their stories shape-shift and they seem to look more deeply into the rockpool of life. Iranian cinema overall is still excitingly modernist, too, in that it shows and plays with the process of filmmaking.

Mania: It is the cinema of poetry, the cinema of hidden dramas. The drama poetically flows from the hills and mountains of that country to the valleys of your soul. Its secret, which I’m aware of, is the secret of silence in grief, the secret of fineness in the heart of violence. There is an eastern secret hidden behind that screen which is not easy to reveal.

If you could recommend one Iranian film for List readers to watch what would it be and why?

Mark: The Brick and the Mirror by Ebrahim Golestan. The film is as beautiful as an Antonioni film, and challenges much of what we see and hear about Iran. 

Mania: The Brick and the MirrorThe House Is BlackMongolsClose-up.

What is your personal, most treasured scene in an Iranian film?

Mark: The long take in Mania Akbari’s 20 Fingers, in which the camera goes from a fast-moving motorbike into a car without a cut – it is worthy of Scorsese at his best!

Mania: The death scene from Sohrab Shahid Saless’ Simple Event, which happens in the way its title suggests: simple, soft, soundless. And it shows the most brutal of all realities in life: death. I’ll never forget that moment, that contemplation on the philosophy of life.

Mark Cousins and Mania Akbari’s Life May Be screens on Sat 21 & Mon 23 Jun.

This year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival features two strands dedicated to Iranian cinema: Focus on Iran and Interrupted Revolution: Iranian Cinema, 1962 to 1978. The latter includes The Brick and The Mirror, Sat 21 Jun, and The Mongols, Mon 23 Jun.

Life May Be

  • 2014
  • UK / Iran
  • 1h 25min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Mania Akbari, Mark Cousins
  • Written by: Mania Akbari/Mark Cousins
  • Cast: Mania Akbari, Mark Cousins

A heartfelt meditation on art and identity. Two filmmakers carry on a correspondence in the form of essayistic films in which they consider some themes that are at the core of their personal and artistic lives: exile, the body, representation. As each filmed letter responds and spirals off from the previous one, the film…