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Sensitivity Training


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Dear letters editor:

With all the respect to Jonathan Rosenbaum who is undoubtedly a great and insightful film critic, I found his review on Mohsen Makhmalbaf's films upsetting [April 11]. Although the article may have been written with all the best intentions, as I know from previous reviews of Jonathan's on the Iranian cinema, it has some annoying language and a style of criticism that I can't ignore.

I think it is wrong to use personal information from the filmmaker's private life to support one's thesis about his films. Maybe the fact that Makhmalbaf has been a political prisoner is relevant to the discussion of his films, but I found the references to his second marriage and how many pairs of shoes he buys for his children completely unnecessary even if they were true.

Also, the careless use of the words "fundamentalist and terrorist" to describe the filmmaker's history triggers prejudice, putting Makhmalbaf, one of the most honest and loved filmmakers of the postrevolutionary Iranian cinema into a negative category in the minds of Western readers.

By relying on Makhmalbaf's unhappy childhood and the poor class that he comes from (marketing the misery) as well as on his torture in prison, the article tries to use psychology in a loose and potentially dangerous way to stereotype and package Makhmalbaf's personality as a "tormented soul" for his audience. Most of the Western male filmmakers who I know have different kinds of tormented souls, if not sick minds, so how can this labeling be helpful here?

The article, despite its many interesting passages, fails to appreciate some of the great parts of Makhmalbaf's works. It focuses more on his earlier and weaker films and in general gives a negative image of Makhmalbaf and his cinema.

I hope that we'd all take more time to become more sensitive in our language, understanding, and assumptions of each other's cultures.

Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa


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