Cinema Series Interview – “Avalanche”

20161023-_mg_0239-edit-2-1screenshot-2016-11-22-19-38-57Interview between Judy Tyson and Mahrokh Shayanpour, who will be presenting the next MAGPS Cinema Series movie, “Avalanche,” Saturday, December 3, 2016.

J-Tell me about you and your interest in movies.

M. I have been interested in movies since I was very young. I pursued my interest by taking courses in acting school. And, presently, I express my interest by writing screen plays and librettos for opera.

J-What kind of movies do you like? What themes interest you?

M. I like movies that focus on relationships and spirituality. As George Valliant proposed, awe, love (attachment), trust (faith), compassion, gratitude, forgiveness, joy and hope constitute what we mean by spirituality. When I watch a movie I am curious to see how minor and major incidents in peoples’ lives impact them. I’m curious about how they cope with the stress from these incidents. How they manage their sanity when they must face something difficult; how the out-of-balance state of their lives influences their spiritual perspective. I notice how their lives are reflected in what my beloved poet Rumi says about his life: “The result of my life is no more than three words: I was raw, I became cooked, and I was burnt.”

J- Why did you choose this movie?

M. The first reason I chose this movie was because of the actress. Fateme Motamed-Arya. Without any doubt she is one of the most talented actresses in Iran. I try not to miss any of her movies. The first time I saw Avalanche, was in D.C. last year at the Smithsonian’s Iranian film festival; when it had not yet been shown in Iran.

The movie’s story is written so that no matter what your background or how old you are, you can view it through your own lens and interpret it with different perspectives. And, in the end, all interpretations can make sense. The more I watched the movie I found points that are a new angel to interpret.

J-What about this movie would interest group therapists?

M. In Avalanche we see each character as part of at least one subgroup. The film vividly demonstrates the challenge of maintaining self-care while being responsive to the expectations and needs of others. We watch Homa respond to the needs of the “other” while overriding to her own needs. Homa struggles to identify her needs in spite of the “pull” and distraction of the needs of the “others”. Group therapists are reminded that each group member is impacted one way or another by the subgroups they bring with them in their psyches. Watching Avalanche the group therapist is reminded of the group leader’s role: help group members solve the question, “how do I respond to my needs for actualization without denying and blocking the needs of maintaining a connection with others.

J-What does this movie tell us about Iran? Culture? Role of women? Men? Medical culture?

M. This movie does not talk much about the Iranian culture in particular. To me, the challenges that story presents are global issues; anyone anywhere can experience it. People have “bumps on their life road”, no matter what culture they have or what religion they pursue.

J- And what do we learn about the roles of the Iranian men and women we see in this film?

M. In the United States many woman and men, rather than being constrained to one particular purpose or role, have taken on many roles like Homa. These roles are critical for their livelihood and important for their self-esteem and sense of fulfillment. Viewing the film through the lens of Homa, her husband and other characters in the film, we see an Iranian woman challenged by the responsibilities and expectations from her various roles. We see the husband acting on his wish for fulfillment in his role as writer. So we have a picture that appears similar to the multi-faceted roles of adults in the States.

J- A movie critic described Homa as sinking into Depression. Is that your view? From a clinical view, how would you describe her?

M. The answer that makes sense to the viewer will depend on the lens you use. I see Homa through a different lens. I notice she is sleep deprived while trying to be responsive to many others’ needs. From the lens of psychopathology she could be seen as depressed and co-dependent. However, I view her from the lens of sleep deprivation. I see Homa struggle to manage her role as nurse, mother, and wife while she is physically exhausted. Perhaps what looks like depression could be the effects of sleep deprivation. Her change in mental status, cognition, poor decision making, impulsivity in reacting to others she cares for, and inability to strategize effectively can be explained be explained as the effects of sleep deprivation.

J- What else would you like to tell me before we conclude our conversation about this film?

M. If people are interested in seeing another movie about interpersonal relationships, I suggest watching “Certified Copy” by Abbas Kiarostami who, sadly, passed away a few months ago. Juliet Binoche won best actress award at Cannes for her part in the film.

J- Thank you, Mahrokh. I have enjoyed talking with you and learning about your views on Avalanche. There are so many aspects to it that make it a gem of a film. Anticipating our conversation I watched the film once. For me, the camera work and sound effects contributed to Avalanche being a work of art. I wonder what other lenses I’ll notice watching it for the second time. I’m looking forward to seeing you at the Cinema Series December 3.