Khook (Pig): An interview with director Mani Haghighi
Khook is a wonderful oddity, indeed it’s brilliantly kooky (or perhaps khooky). Director Mani Haghighi’s film tells the story of Hassan Kasmai (played by Hasan Majuni) as he contends with being a blacklisted film director in contemporary Iran. He doesn’t deal with it all that well, but it’s a given that he doesn’t deal with any kind of adversity particularly well. Hassan is childish and in need of constant validation, and if his career woes weren’t enough, a serial killer is gruesomely bumping off Iran’s top filmmakers. In a meta moment, one of the victims in the film is announced as Mani Haghighi himself. This series of events sends Hassan into a petulant sulk. Surely he should be respected enough to be violently decapitated too? We spoke with Mani Haghighi at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival.
A filmmaker making a film about a filmmaker. It has to be asked – does Khook have any autobiographical elements?
Evidently yes, I mean, nothing I can put my finger on or be explicit about, but the milieu and the atmosphere is very familiar to me. In fact, it was very easy to write for this reason because all the little puzzles I had with the specific content and the social life that is going on in the movie, it was easy to just make reference to something that I knew about. In that sense, yes, but if you’re asking me if it’s drawn from my own experiences in real life, obviously not. It’s such an exaggerated and crazy situation.
Your film depicts a different side of your country than what is often seen in cinema. Is it a means of showing the real Iran?
The things that you’ve seen about Iran, you’ve seen mostly in two contexts: in news media, and cinema. Not the best way of approaching a country, right? Imagine with your own country if you only had these two ways for other people to see you, then you would have the same kind of problem that I have. So, yes, it is real, but this is an exaggerated comedy, so at the same time, it isn’t. It’s drawing from my personal life as an artist or whatever you want to call it. So in drawing from that, in that sense it’s real. But it’s been put through the labyrinth of art, hysteria, panic and imagination, so what comes out is a completely perverted image of what is real. There are elements of reality and fiction.
The film touches upon the issue of filmmakers being blacklisted. Were there any no-go areas?
Absolutely. I felt like there were red lines all around me. I felt like I was in a minefield. But that’s what made it so exciting. So many people could be upset, and the sheer number of them was so huge, that I just thought, f**k it – I’ll just upset them. And that’s why I decided to have myself decapitated at the beginning of the film. I will make the biggest joke about myself, and then I’ll have carte blanche to do it. I hope that works.
Khook depicts an almost farcical side of the filmmaker’s life. Why is it so hard to laugh about ourselves?
People are insecure, and people are fragile. It’s like something that people maybe don’t realise as well as they should about the process of filmmaking. It’s really simple: you spend two years of your life, more or less, and you condense that into 100 minutes of film. So those 100 minutes – it’s your life. It’s an intimate part of your soul, and you’ve grown old, and you’ve endured a lot of hardships to get these 100 minutes on the screen. It’s like uranium – it’s very potent. So when it’s criticised, even a single word or adjective in a review can become devastating. It’s not just a description of your work, it’s an attack on two years of your life at the moment you encounter it. But then, of course, you have to be reasonable, and you have to distance yourself, and realise that it’s not about you, it’s about the film. But that process is tricky, and it’s difficult to go through. So this morning all these reviews of Khook came out, and I was reading them like (gasps). The first encounter can be really hard to take, even if it’s a compliment. Because a compliment can be the result of a misunderstanding just as much as a criticism can be. So that’s the reason why it’s hard to laugh at yourself, because as a filmmaker it can be intense. You’ve put a lot into it, and you basically just want everyone to love it, and to say nothing else but “Oh, holy sh*t, what an amazing masterpiece”. That never happens, and you have to learn to laugh at yourself, learn to distance yourself from the object of your love. And that’s not easy, and it takes time.
Did you set out to show a different version of Iran than the one that audiences might have come expect?
Yes and no. I don’t try to make a vision. I try to show corners of the country that you don’t normally see – just shining a light on a part of the culture that is not reflected in other films, because I find that this is becoming an ideological kind of motif in Iranian films, where it’s always about depression, it’s always about marital problems, it’s always about how awful everything is, and it’s beginning to look like whining. You know what I mean? It’s like a child complaining all the time about how awful everything is. But of course everything is awful. But when everything is awful there are different reactions you can have to it. You can laugh about it, you can cry about it, you can do all kinds of things, but just complaining about it, showing these dark characters in these really dark intensive social situations? I’ve done those myself, I’ve acted in those films, I’ve written those films, I’ve made those films. But I’m beginning to feel… come on, let’s change the channel.
Khook (Pig) does not have a UK release date yet. Read our review here.
Read more reviews and interviews from our Berlin Film Festival 2018 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Berlin Film Festival 2018.