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Fear and felinicide in Budapest

A new English-language film by an Iranian director shot around Budapest deals with modern-day issues yet takes its lead from the rich heritage of Hungarian cinema. We speak with Mansour Forouzesh, creator of ‘When I Killed the Cat’, about life in limbo and what he calls his ‘wonder city’.

Director Mansour Forouzesh feels at home in Budapest. He already knew the films of the region from growing up in Iran. “I was a little acquainted with Polish and Hungarian cinema as a child, and after I started filmmaking, I was more interested in Golden Age cinema productions in Hungary and Poland,” Forouzesh says. “In Iranian film schools, Hungarian director Béla Tarr is one of the characters from whom we learned a lot.”

So his decision to get a master’s degree in filmmaking in Hungary’s capital was not surprising, and when he arrived, he found himself entranced by the city: “I can safely say that Budapest is like a second home to me now”.

In fact, Budapest feels like home to a lot of people, according to Forouzesh, and that makes it a great place to make a film. Forouzesh shot his latest short fiction film, When I Killed the Cat, in Budapest, and there are plans to screen it here soon.

With a career that has included making several of his own short fiction pieces and producing more than 30 documentaries for Iranian TV, Forouzesh has now made two films in Central Europe, starting with a documentary about refugees, in which precise geography plays a big role. But for When I Killed the Cat, the location needed to fade into the background.

Beautiful Budapest

“Budapest is one of those cities that really has the potential to tell any story,” Forouzesh says, “not only due to its remarkable and beautiful urban background, but also the accompaniment of different symbols, buildings and moods that make this city – even if you are a complete stranger – familiar to you”.

In fact, in When I Killed the Cat, the scenery is secondary to what is going on in the mind of the main character, Jim. He has a nagging mother and his ex-girlfriend is going out with a rich, successful man who owns a fancy sports car.

We see the story from Jim’s point of view, which seems to veer away from reality with increasing frequency. His internal struggles during what might appear to be ordinary events make for a tense, frightening drama.

The backdrop for this story includes some locations that will be familiar for an observant viewer with a knowledge of far-flung parts of Budapest. But that’s not the point.

Universal stories

I think we did our best to separate the film world from where this story really takes place, because it has a universal basis and content. But since the language of the film is English, we tried to make the atmosphere more reminiscent of the United States,” says Forouzesh.

This is the first film Forouzesh made in Hungary, though he previously created a documentary just over the border, about people who wanted to get into this country from neighbouring Serbia.

Lost Whispers in the Distance centres around two groups of refugees, Iranians in a refugee camp and a group of young Afghan men, who cannot even find spaces in an official camp and are forced to live a harsh existence in an abandoned building.

Both groups give interviews about their life in limbo and their constant attempts to get into the EU – paying people smugglers who cheat them and being caught by police who beat them. Despite repeated failures, these refugees continue to try to leave their dead-end existence in Serbia.

Like many Western-made films about refugees, Forouzesh’s documentary looks at what makes someone flee their home in search of an imagined utopia. But Lost Whispers in the Distance, which is mostly in Persian with English subtitles, also warns of the risks of life as a refugee.

The interviews show that the Afghan refugees fleeing violence may not have had much choice, but some of the Iranians regretted their decision. Among Iranian refugees he interviewed, “the common issue is that they are not aware about the consequence of this decision and how difficult and complicated it is being a refugee,” says Fourouzesh, adding that those considering taking the illegal route to Europe should know all the facts.

But as for taking the legal route, Fourouzesh is clearly in favour. For now he is staying in his second home, Budapest, which he calls “a wonder city”.

Photographs courtesy Ádám Nagy, Edit Trunkó and Mansour Forouzesh.


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