Mohsen Makhmalbaf

Mohsen Makhmalbaf (Persian: محسن مخملباف, Mohsen Makhmalbaaf; born May 29, 1957) is an Iranian film director, writer, film editor, and producer. He has made more than 20 feature films, won some 50 awards and been a juror in more than 15 major film festivals. His award-winning films include Kandahar; his latest documentary is The Gardener and latest feature The President.

Mohsen Makhmalbāf
Mohsen makhmalbaf.jpg
Born (1957-05-29) May 29, 1957 (age 65)
Years active1981–present
Political partyMojahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization (1979–1980s)[1]
Fatemeh Meshkini
(m. 1978; died 1982)

(m. 1987)
AwardsFreedom to Create Prize
Federico Fellini Honour

Makhmalbaf's films have been widely presented at international film festivals in the past ten years. The director belongs to the new wave movement of Iranian cinema. Time selected Makhmalbaf's 2001 film Kandahar as one of the top 100 films of all time.[2] In 2006, he was a member of the Jury at the Venice Film Festival.

Makhmalbaf left Iran in 2005 shortly after the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and has lived in Paris since the events of the 2009 Iranian presidential election.[3]


Makhmalbaf (childhood)

Makhmalbaf was born in Tehran on May 29, 1957. At the age of 15, he became involved in a militant group fighting against the rule of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the then Shah of Iran, and at the age of 17 he was imprisoned for stabbing a policeman and sentenced to death. After serving five years of his sentence, he was released in the wake of the Iranian Revolution.[4][5] He left Iran in 2005.[6]


Makhmalbaf is a major figure in Iranian cinema. His films have explored the relationship between the individual and a larger social and political environment. As a result, his work serves as an extended commentary on the historical progression of the Iranian state and its people. Makhmalbaf has worked in several genres, from realist films to fantasy and surrealism, minimalism, and large frescoes of everyday life, with a predilection (common to Iranian directors) for the themes of childhood and cinema.[7]

In 1981, he wrote the screenplay for Towjeeh, directed by Manuchehr Haghaniparast. In 1982, he wrote the screenplay for Marg Deegari, directed by Mohammad-Reza Honarmand. He made his first film, Tobeh Nosuh, in 1983, and Boycott, a film set in pre-revolutionary Iran, in 1985. The latter tells the story of Valeh (Majid Majidi), a young man sentenced to death for Communist tendencies, and is widely believed to be based on Makhmalbaf's own experiences.

Makhmalbaf portrays human despair, exploitation, and resilience in The Cyclist (1987),[8] a movie about Nasim, a poor Afghan refugee in Iran in desperate need of money for his ailing wife. Nasim agrees to ride a bicycle in a small circle for one week straight in return for the money he needs to pay his wife's medical bills.

In 1989, Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami read in the newspaper about an incident in which a Tehranian man named Hossain Sabzian tricked a family into believing he was Makhmalbaf. Kiarostami adapted the case into the 1990 docufiction film Close-Up, and recruited Makhmalbaf himself to appear in the final scene of the film. Close Up is now regarded as a masterpiece of world cinema, and was voted by critics onto 2012's Sight and Sound list of The Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time.[9]

Time of Love (1991) is Makhmalbaf's ninth feature film and the first film of what he calls his "third period".[10] It is a romantic trilogy that offers three variations of the same story.[11]

Hana Makhmalbaf, Marzieh Meshkini and Mohsen Makhmalbaf, receiving the Cyclo d'Or at the Vesoul International Film Festival of Asian Cinema in 2009

Makhmalbaf directed Gabbeh in 1996. The film follows the nomadic Ghashghai people, whose bright, bold carpets tell stories. The main thread features a young woman who loves a mysterious stranger but is forbidden to marry him. The film is romantic and non-realistic, with events seeming to leap around in time and space, much like a dream.[12]

Makhmalbaf took time off from directing in 1996 to form the Makhmalbaf Film House, a school for young filmmakers. It quickly became a private production house for the increasing number of filmmakers in his family. In 1997, his 17-year-old daughter Samira directed The Apple, using him as a scriptwriter and editor. Makhmalbaf's wife, Marziyeh Meshkini, worked as assistant director to her daughter and then took up directing herself.[13]

Kandahar (2001) is a fictional odyssey inspired by a true story set in Afghanistan before the September 11 attacks, as the Taliban's laws strip women of civil rights and hope and a Western-cultured Afghan woman returns to prevent her sister's suicide during the last eclipse of the 20th century.[14]

I witnessed about 20,000 men, women and children around the city of Herat starving to death. They couldn't walk and were scattered on the ground awaiting the inevitable. This was the result of the recent famine. That same day the then United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Japan's Sadako Ogata, also visited these same people and promised that the world would help them. Three months later, I heard on Iranian radio that Madame Ogata gave the number of Afghans dying of hunger to be a million nationwide.

I reached the conclusion that the statue of Buddha was not demolished by anybody; it crumbled out of shame. Out of shame for the world's ignorance towards Afghanistan. It broke down knowing its greatness didn't do any good.

— Limbs of no body : World's indifference to the Afghan tragedy, June 20, 2001

Early years of revolutionEdit

Mohsen Makhmalbaf in the early years of Iranian revolution. His first wife Fatemeh Meshkini (Marzieh's sister) and his children Samira and Maysam are also in the picture.

In contrast to his later career, for about a decade after the revolution, Makhmalbaf's views and films served as the voice of revolutionary art in the cultural atmosphere of Iran. Moreover, some pre-revolutionary filmmakers have accounts about celebrities who have been hurt by Makhmalbaf's positions in this period.[15] Saeed Motalebi, an established writer and director before the revolution, is one of the people who has repeatedly recounted stories about how Makhmalbaf's stances affected pre-revolutionary stars. One of these accounts refers to the 1982 film The Imperilled (Barzakhi-ha) which was written by Motalebi and had four pre-revolutionary male stars in the lead roles. It was directed by Iraj Ghaderi and, with its patriotic story about resisting foreign invasion, it was a chance for Fardin, Malek-Motiei, Ghaderi and Rad to renew their threatened careers as actors in the post-revolutionary atmosphere. The film was a hit and became the highest grossing Iranian film of all time in its short period of screening in theaters. But it was soon banned and consequently the four actors were banned from working.[16] About how the film's success was turned into disaster Motalebi says:

In one Friday Mr. Mohsen Makhmalbaf gathered a couple of people and they started collecting signatures for a petition which was written on a scroll, stating that "We have made a revolution while these actors are transgressors." They did it right in front of that theater in the Revolution Square near the university of Tehran. They said "Look how theaters are crowded while friday events are deserted." That's how they stopped my film.[17] Then a reporter who was queued to ask something about our film, went and told the then prime minister (Mir-Hossein Mousavi) "There is a film in theaters whose writer wants to convey that people who are fighting in the fronts are problematic persons." The prime minister replied "These are leftovers of junk intellectuals who will soon go to the dustbin of history." Malek-Motiei became jobless and turned his garage into a pastry shop. Ghaderi put some rice bags in his office and became a rice dealer. Fardin opened a pastry shop too and when I went to visit him, I used to wait outside as long as there were no customers so that he wouldn't feel ashamed when he saw me. These were all caused by those illogical efforts which I will never forgive.[18]

There is also a letter by Makhmalbaf dating back to 1986 in which he attacks filmmakers like Dariush Mehrjui and Ali Hatami. Addressing Mohammad Beheshti Shirazi, then head of Farabi Cinema Foundation which was Iran's main governmental film production company, Makhmalbaf says: "Two hours ago when I saw The Lodgers I was ready to attach a grenade to myself and hold Mehrjui to take both of us to the other world."[19]

In later years, Makhmalbaf became deeply disillusioned, first by the Islamic regime, and soon after by Islamic ideology itself. By the early 1990s he was one of the most outspoken critics of the government in Iran.[20]

Degrees and honorsEdit

  • Mohsen Makhmalbaf: Selected as the best filmmaker after the revolution by readers of cinema publications, 1988
  • A Moment of Innocence: Among Top Ten Films of the Decade – Awarded by International Festival Directors and Critics 1999
  • "Federico Fellini Honor" from UNESCO in Paris, 2001 (France)
  • "Freedom to Create Prize" for his human rights activity and promoting social justice through his art, Art Action, England, 2009
  • Honorary Degree of Doctor of Cinema from Nanterre University, France, 2010
  • Honorary Degree of Doctor of Literature from St Andrews University, Scotland, 2011


Year English title Original title Length Notes
1983 Pure Repentance Tawba Nasuh 100 minutes
1984 Two Blind Eyes Do Cheshme Bisoo 102 minutes
Seeking Refuge Isti'azah 89 minutes
1986 Boycott Boycott 95 minutes
1987 The Peddler Dastforoush 90 minutes
1989 The Cyclist Bicycleran 83 minutes
Marriage of the Blessed Arousi-ye Khouban 70 minutes
1990 The Nights of Zayande-rood Shabhaye Zayandeh-rood 100 minutes/63 minutes (censored)
1991 Time of Love Nobat e Asheghi 70 minutes
1992 Once Upon a Time, Cinema Nasseroddin Shah Actor-e Cinema 92 minutes
1993 Images from the Qajar Period Tasvir Dar Doran-e Ghajar 18 minutes Short documentary
The Artist Honarpisheh 86 minutes
Stone and Glass Sang-o-Shisheh 20 minutes Short documentary
1995 Hello Cinema Salaam Cinema 81 minutes Docudrama
1996 A Moment of Innocence Nun va Goldoon 78 minutes
Gabbeh 72 minutes
1997 The School the Wind Blew Away Madrese-i ke bad bord 8 minutes Short
1998 The Silence Sokout 74 minutes
1999 Tales of Kish Ghessé hayé kish 72 minutes Segment The Door
2000 Tales of an Island Dastanhaye Jazireh 76 minutes Segment Testing Democracy
2001 Kandahar Safar-e Ghandehar 85 minutes
The Afghan Alphabet Alefbay-e afghan 46 minutes Documentary
2005 Sex & Philosophy Sex o phalsapheh 102 minutes
2006 Scream of the Ants Faryad moorcheha 85 minutes
The Chair Sandali 8 minutes Short
2009 The Man Who Came with the Snow 75 minutes Co-directed with Marzieh Meshkini
2012 The Gardener Bagheban 87 minutes Documentary
2013 The Endless Smile Labkhande-bi-payan 52 minutes Documentary
2014 The President 118 minutes
2015 The Tenant 18 minutes Short
2019 Marghe and Her Mother 101 minutes Set in Italy

Films banned in Iran

Film appearances

See alsoEdit

Further readingEdit

  • Hamid Dabashi, Close Up: Iranian Cinema, Past, Present and Future. (Chapter on Makhmalbaf). Verso, 2001.[21]
  • Hamid Dabashi, Like Light from the Heart of Darkness. Sakuhinsha, Japan, 2004.[22]
  • Hamid Dabashi, Masters & Masterpieces of Iranian Cinema: (Chapter XI: Mohsen Makhmalbaf: A Moment of Innocence. pp. 325–368). Mage Publishers, 2007. ISBN 0-934211-85-X.[23]
  • Hamid Dabashi, Makhmalbaf at Large: The Making of a Rebel Filmmaker. I. B. Tauris, 2007.[24]
  • The Peddler: (Director’s interview, Screenplay, Reviews, and Study) Compiled by Ebrahim Nabavi, 1989.
  • Salam Cinema: (Screenplay, Interviews, Reviews, and Study) Compiled by Amir Khosravi, 1996.
  • Gabbeh: (Photographs with along Screenplay) Photography by: Mohammad Ahmadi, 1996.
  • Silence: (Photographs with along Screenplay) Photography by: Maysam Makhmalbaf, 1998.
  • Mohsen Makhmalbaf: (Review and Study) Compiled by: Alberto Barbara (in Italian), 1996.
  • Makhmalbaf’s Broken Mirrors: (Review and Study) Compiled by: Lyrid Dijeon (in English), 2000.
  • Introducing of Mohsen Makhmalbaf and his works: (Review and Study) Compiled by: Baharlou, 1995 (second print: 1998).
  • "Salaam Cinema, Films of Makhmalbaf Family" by Pusan International Film Festival, 2000.
  • "The Films Of Makhmalbaf (Cinema, Politics & culture In Iran)" by: Eric Egan, 2005.
  • " Makhmalbaf at Large" (Review and Study) by: Hamid Dabashi, 2008.
  • "Mohsen Makhmalbaf: From Discourse to Dialogue" (Review and Study) by: Fernando González García, 2008.


  1. ^ Alfoneh, Ali (2013), Iran Unveiled: How the Revolutionary Guards Is Transforming Iran from Theocracy into Military Dictatorship, AEI Press, pp. 8–10
  2. ^ "All-Time 100 Movies". Time. February 12, 2005. Archived from the original on May 25, 2005. Retrieved May 13, 2010.
  3. ^ Black, Ian (November 25, 2009). "Iran should face smarter sanctions, says Mohsen Makhmalbaf". The Guardian.
  4. ^ "Movies". The New York Times.
  5. ^ Dehghan, Saeed Kamali (August 10, 2015). "The President's Mohsen Makhmalbaf: 'There's a little Shah in all of us'". The Guardian.
  6. ^ Rima Maktabi (September 22, 2011). "Exiled Iranian film director's flight to freedom".
  7. ^ "La Biennale di Venezia". September 29, 2006. Archived from the original on September 29, 2006. Retrieved April 6, 2022.
  8. ^ "Mohsen Makhmalbaf".
  9. ^ "The Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time". Sight & Sound. British Film Institute. August 1, 2012. Retrieved August 10, 2012.
  10. ^ MacFarquhar, Neil (June 8, 1997). "1997 New York Times article describing the four periods into which Makhmalbaf divides his work". The New York Times. Retrieved May 13, 2010.
  11. ^ "Offscreen :: A Study of Mohsen Makhmalbaf's "Time of Love's" intertextual references to Maulana Jalal al-Din Rumi's poem "The Three Fish"". Archived from the original on March 26, 2007. Retrieved February 17, 2007.
  12. ^ "Gabbeh".
  13. ^ Bordwell, David, and Kristin Thompson , ed. Film History. 3rd. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2010. 610. Print.
  14. ^ Axmaker, Sean (October 1, 2002). "Haunting 'Kandahar' a stark, surreal odyssey". Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
  15. ^ "Exremism of Makhmalbaf". October 30, 2016.
  16. ^ "Highest Grossing Iranian Films". March 8, 2011.
  17. ^ "ایرج قادری: جمشید آریا یک تلفن به من نزد که ببیند زنده هستم یا مرده!". February 18, 1391. Retrieved April 6, 2022.
  18. ^ "Motalebi: We Were All Dead on the Spot". December 15, 2019.
  19. ^ "Makhmalbaf Roaring Against Mehrjui". October 30, 2016.
  20. ^ Dabashi, Hamid (2008). Makhmalbaf at large : the making of a rebel filmmaker. London: I.B. Tauris. ISBN 978-1-4416-0003-5. OCLC 313410802.
  21. ^ Hamid Habashi. "Close Up: Iranian Cinema". Archived from the original on March 29, 2008. Retrieved September 7, 2010.
  22. ^ "Hamid Dabashi's Official Web Site". February 7, 2008. Archived from the original on February 7, 2008. Retrieved April 6, 2022.
  23. ^ "Persian Poetry and Shahnameh Books – Culture of Iran from Mage Publishers". Archived from the original on August 23, 2010. Retrieved September 7, 2010.
  24. ^ "ACADEMIC: Middle East: Books: Bloomsbury Publishing (UK)". Retrieved April 6, 2022.

External linksEdit