My Stolen Planet: or, the Memory of a Future

in Thessaloniki Docs 2024

by Alessandro Amato

“The first blow of the revolution lands on the bodies of women.” Farahnaz Sharifi’s My Stolen Planet (Sayyareye dozdide shodeye man) supports a weighty thesis. The revolution in question is the Iranian one, the one that saw religious fanaticism rise to power in 1979. First the deprivations desired by the Islamic Shiite dictatorship were aimed at women, who from one day to the next had to wear veils on their heads when they left their houses. The photo of young Farahnaz—who can finally uncover her head within the walls of her courtyard—is, in these terms, of inestimable substance. Sharifi lives abroad, having fled her country to protect her private planet. In interviews with other Iranian women around the world, the complexity of their feelings emerges and, consequently, convinces us of the importance of the film we are watching in the contemporary cinema landscape.

The first story we are told is that of Leyla, an academic from the USA. She wants to write an article about banning women’s voices in Iran. The director responds with data collected for a previous film and then asks her how many years ago she left the country. Leyla replies: “I never left Iran. But if you want a specific date, I was 15, one year after the revolution.” Just one of the testimonies that this film intends to represent.

Furthermore, in Farahnaz’s video calls from Germany we can see her mother growing old away from her daughter and losing hope of ever seeing her again. What is most striking about this passage is the awareness with which the director admits that she has to pretend to be in a good mood when she talks to her mother so as not to upset her. A moment that shows us how delicate the relationship between emotions and politics is. How unstable the relationship between duty and necessity is. The moving images of the elderly woman who draws remind us how unpredictable life is and how difficult, even if apparently simple, our choices can turn out to be. A family tragedy that contains many others, sublimating the sense of impotence of the narrator but also of the spectator.

The home movie footage show us another painful truth: the greatest wrong suffered by the population was no longer being able to share the thing they loved most, which was dancing in public. A film about a huge, collective oblivion of what that country was and could potentially become again. Today the female rebellion in Iran is once again making itself heard, in a new generation of women with an eye to Europe and the myth of a past in which freedom was not forbidden. A rediscovered past as a model for a dreamed future, just like in Persepolis (2007) by Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi. If that animated masterpiece wanted to establish a newfound autonomy of storytelling for Iranian women, the “first person” documentary My Stolen Planet goes further and also reclaims reality through their memories in Super 8 material. Can we say that the two works complement each other in the search for truth? We are certainly faced with the expression of an urgency that will not find its end here. The author of the new stage of this journey seems to constantly ask herself how her passion for filmmaking can be used to tell such a profoundly human drama, and this is what her work succeeds at. In fact, it is able to ask itself the right questions, denouncing without rhetoric a common yet extremely personal condition. Once again the mystery of cinema is revealed in its universality.

By Alessandro Amato
Edited by Robert Horton