Guilt and the sense of guilt
The film NAMO is about alienation. It is the story of a nation that is being marginalised in its own country. Where the people are treated like criminals, though they haven’t really done anything wrong. It’s about a society that acts offensively toward its members, a society in which a simple teacher becomes a suspect just because he is a newcomer in a city where he lives. NAMO tries to represent the general atmosphere in Iran these days, where you might be labelled as guilty without really knowing why.
In the production of the film, we asked local people to act in order to add to the film’s plausibility. The film reveals how the presence of strangers leads to higher tension among local people, due to their silent and mysterious conduct. Strangers often feel guilty for the slightest reasons and easily lose their temper. In such stressful conditions, people tend to get hurt more, for they live in a state of constant suspicion and mutual accusations. This is the work of the state, which imposes on its citizens the sense of feeling guilty without doing anything illegal.
Using those methods makes it easier for the state to indoctrinate its own ideology. The production of the film encountered many difficulties due to its provocative themes. But we made this film because it is a truthful mirror of Iran’s current sociopolitical situation. The film also contains some verbal violence. A stranger is misunderstood just because he does not speak the same language as the local people. He can't communicate with the local community and is forced to leave the city while at the same time inheriting what his father left behind. (Nader Saeivar)
Interview with Nader Saeivar: “The story could happen in any Iranian city”
NAMO is the story of a teacher who is exposed to suspicion without any fault on his part. We see a warm-hearted person who has no chance of leading an untroubled life with his family. Where is the film located and why did you choose to set the plot there?
The film takes place in one of Iran's major cities. Of course, the story is such that it could happen in any Iranian city. But it was important for the main character to be an alien. I wanted him to not be able to escape the trap he had fallen in. This could happen in any Iranian city in which he does not speak the language.
You wrote the script together with Jafar Panahi, with whom you also worked on other projects. What was your collaboration like and how did you develop the character of your protagonist?
I have been working with Mr. Panahi for about four years. He is my teacher. Often the original design of a film is either suggested by him or me. Then we talk about it for a long time. It may take a year or more. Then the writing begins. The original draft becomes a script, the sequences are written one after the other. The main work then consists of writing more versions and finally creating a final version. Since we've lived in two different worlds and come from two different generations, through our work together, the world of the screenplay expands and diverse personalities enter the story.
Did you work with non-professional actors? How did they react when you asked them to be part of the film?
No, they are actors from the same city who act in local plays and Iranian films. But they are not famous figures in Iranian cinema. They were very happy when I offered them to participate. The important thing for me was to use people who were close to the characters in both their appearance and personal life. It was not difficult for them to recognise the characters in the film, because the story of the film is about them and the society in which they live. They even occasionally improvised and complemented their dialogues.
NAMO is your first feature-length film. What were the biggest challenges of this project for you?
The most important challenge for me was the artistic style of the film. On the one hand, to not dare to make a movie in the style that I love; on the other hand, to not fall into the trap of a typical, hand-drawn form. It was like walking on tightrope. At any given moment, the film might have seemed artificial. Or the film could even have become so enthralled with its own form that the sense of the scenes and the content of the script would have disappeared! Striking a balance between art form and the communication of content was one of my biggest challenges in making this film.
(Interview: Gabriela Seidel-Hollaender, February 2020)