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SAN SEBASTIÁN 2017 New Directors

Milad Alami • Director

“Sometimes acceptance comes with a price”


- SAN SEBASTIÁN 2017: We chatted to Swedish-Iranian filmmaker Milad Alami, whose feature debut, The Charmer, is currently taking part in New Directors at San Sebastián

Milad Alami  • Director
(© Gari Garaialde / Festival de San Sebastián)

Swedish-Iranian filmmaker Milad Alami has made several appearances at film festivals with his multi-award-winning short films. The Charmer [+see also:
film review
interview: Ardalan Esmaili
interview: Milad Alami
film profile
 is his debut feature film and is participating in the New Directors competition at the 65th San Sebastián International Film Festival. Cineuropa chatted to him about the background to his story and the difficulties of finding acceptance in a new society.

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Cineuropa: How did you develop your story? To what extent is it based on fact?
Milad Alami:
I wrote the screenplay together with screenwriter Ingeborg Topsøe. We were interested in creating a character who was a foreign observer and whom the audience would learn more about as the story unfolded. Through him, we wanted to examine the themes of identity, class differences, race and powerlessness. The story is not based on real facts. I do, however, have a relative who went through a similar journey to the one that Esmail does in the film. When the only value you have as a human being is your body, you can easily go down a very destructive path.

Apart from being The Charmer, what is special about Esmail?
We were interested in someone who had already been in Denmark for some time, someone who had tried to learn the language and tasted what life was like here. And maybe most importantly, someone who had begun to be affected by becoming someone functioning in society. The only difference between him and the other characters is that he lacks a permit to stay, a piece of paper and a passport. I was interested in how this might affect a person psychologically.

Was it difficult to create this character? Do you feel that the audience will empathise with him or judge him for his acts?
The important thing for us was to create a complex human character, with sensitivity as well as flaws. This ambiguity was one of the driving forces for us behind creating him. We wanted to use the audiences’ curiosity and preconceptions about him. The choice of Ardalan Esmaili for the main character was also important because he had the sensitivity but also the darkness that the character needed. In the end, he is a person searching for a life with dignity. Directing the movie, I wanted to create an intense experience, and even if the audience questions some of his choices, I wanted to make them want to follow him.

The films that we tend to see related to immigrants have an intense dramatic undertone; do you feel that your movie takes a different approach?
The story is very dramatic, but it’s told differently from the classic story of an immigrant fleeing oppression. You could say that it becomes more and more dramatic the better we know the main character.

As you have lived in both Sweden and Denmark yourself, do you feel that Scandinavian countries could be more accepting?
I don’t think that we can talk about Scandinavian communities as a whole; I think it differs in different parts and even in different communities within a country. I myself came to Sweden as a child and grew up in the north, where I felt very accepted. But I think that sometimes acceptance comes with a price. Many people who have left their home country try very hard to fit in when moving to a new place, as I did. But the older you get, the more you look back at your history, the culture you have left and the aspect of yourself that has been buried deep inside.

People fear what is foreign and what they don’t understand. This fear of the unknown is something we played around with when writing the screenplay.

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