Mahnaz Afshar, whose new feature From Tehran To Heaven, receives its European premiere at IFFR, is a movie star - Iranian-style.
Afshar has 387,000 followers on her Facebook fan page and every new film she appears in is considered an event.
Passing through Rotterdam this week, Afshar reflected on recent changes in Iranian society that are benefitting the film industry.
Speaking about acclaimed director Jafar Panahi, who is no longer under house arrest, Afshar said: “He is in Iran. He is free. The new politics are better for him.”
The Oscar-winning success that Farhadi’s A Separation enjoyed has given other filmmakers a boost. New President Rouhani is encouraging a more “open” government approach to the film industry.
Afshar was keen to play the lead in From Tehran To Heaven, directed by Abolfazl Saffary, because it is a film about a woman’s life in contemporary Iran.
Her character, Ghazal, embarks on a nightmarish journey to try to find her husband who may have stolen secret documents relating to biological weapons.
“It was a new experience for me because the story was somewhere between realism and the surreal,” she reflects.
In her lengthy career, Afshar has worked with many notable directors. She is one of the many actresses who appeared in Abbas Kiarostami’s wryly experimental Shrin in 2008, in which we see these actresses’ faces as they themselves watch a film.
“[Kiarostami] is an amazing director,” she enthuses. “His cinema is really alive. He is able to bring life in front of his camera. And he is really an easy person to deal with.”
Afshar has two new features coming out shortly. She is in Masud Kimiai’s Metropole, whose title comes from an old cinema in Tehran.
She is also in a film called Stranger that is loosely inspired by A Streetcar Named Desire. “I am Blanche’s sister!” she volunteers.