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BERLINALE 2023 Panorama

Milad Alami • Director of Opponent

“Wrestling is a sport with a lot of stereotypical male ideas attached to it, which I wanted to shatter completely”


- BERLINALE 2023: We spoke to the Swedish-Iranian director about his drama revolving around freedom and the quest for a better future

Milad Alami • Director of Opponent
(© Jason Alami)

Swedish-Iranian director Milad Alami presents his new feature Opponent [+see also:
film review
interview: Milad Alami
film profile
in the Panorama section of this year's Berlinale. We talked to the filmmaker about the background of the movie, his autobiographical link to the story and the world of wrestling.

Cineuropa: You have created quite a sombre atmosphere, with a clear visual concept. Could you tell us more about the aesthetic idea behind the film?
Alami: I saw the movie as a film noir, with its classical aesthetics. You have quite a dark world, you can't see the entire picture, and you have a person trying to solve a mystery. Talking to my cinematographer, I told him I wanted us, as the audience, to be the ones who would try to solve the mystery instead of the characters. This led us to the visual language. What was important to me was to capture the snowy landscape of northern Sweden. As a person who moved to Sweden at the end of the 1980s, I remember that from the time I entered a refugee centre, this darkness around me gave me an uneasy feeling. I had just come from Iran, where there were many people around and a lot of traffic. Moreover, I wanted to capture the life of a refugee who is just waiting. I used sharp cuts as well as very long shots to achieve a certain dynamic that could convey this state.

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Then there’s the whole world of wrestling, which I wanted to show in a very beautiful and sensual way. We focused on the male bodies: that’s where the character wants to be, as there is relief. He can focus on other things. There, the camera moves more slowly, and it's more intimate. And finally, for their house, it’s a very typical house around Tehran. I wanted to show it realistically, and the pace is much slower there.

Why did you choose wrestling as a theme?
I don’t have any special link to it, but it happens to mean a lot of things. The story, for me, takes place on a deeper level, as it’s about freedom and the lack thereof. What happens to you when you come from a society that is not free to one that is free? Is it possible to achieve an inner freedom? The wrestling comes out of that. This sport is a very Iranian sport; it's the biggest sport in the country. It's almost like a national symbol – two people fighting against one another in a ring. Wrestling is a sport with a lot of stereotypical male ideas attached to it, which I wanted to shatter completely. It symbolises the two colliding worlds within the character. Together with my producer, we did a lot of research into it: we visited different wrestling clubs and went to competitions. We had a wrestler who helped us with the choreography, and the actors did a lot of preparation.

Why did you want Payman Maadi for the main role?
He is one of the biggest actors in Iran. I know him from the films he did with Asghar Farhadi, and I like him very much. He read the script and liked it. He didn't know about wrestling, but he learned about it together with some Swedish actors. He has a strong presence and inner life.

You’ve already said that some of your personal experience is in the film. Could you tell us more about its autobiographical parts?
I came to Sweden when I was six years old. I grew up in the north of the country. I was placed in a refugee centre very close to where we shot the film. It took me a long time to find the right place to shoot because it had to feel real; I couldn't lie about it. I was familiar with this whole life of waiting and being a refugee in the cold. I knew how it felt to be in a place with a lot of other people and to be waiting for your life to begin. It was easy for me to access this memory. All of the extras in the film are real refugees, and their own ideas found their way into the script.

A crazy thing happened during shooting: an older woman came up to us, and she told me that she was my first Swedish teacher. She had a drawing by me and my brother. That was a really weird feeling, but it brought things full circle. Everything was very intense.

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