Ebrahim Golestan was as imposing as his residence. Because people had described the reclusive author in terms of irascible, terrifying, and aloof (some told me I was crazy to seek him out), I was nervous when I knocked on the mansion’s huge front door. But Golestan – white-haired but physically strong – opened up and greeted me warmly. Over the next two hours I discovered that he was full of lively, sometimes scathing opinions on various subjects and proud of his work. As a young man in Iran, he pursued a literary career, translating foreign authors such as Hemingway, then founding a film company and making short documentaries, which were among the first Iranian films to go abroad and win awards.
His first feature film, The Brick and the Mirror, a brilliant Antonioni-esque study of urban anomy, is the most important and accomplished Iranian feature film before the outbreak of the Iranian New Wave in 1969. But I was there to interview him about another movie. In the 1960s, Golestan was in love with Forough Farrokhzad, considered the greatest poet in Iran’s 2,500-year history. He sent her to England to study filmmaking and later commissioned her to direct a short documentary he was producing about a leper colony. The result, The House Is Black, is widely regarded as the most important Iranian short film in history; His poetic style has had a recognized influence on directors such as Kiarostami and Makhmalbaf. (My interview with Golestan about the film was never published. I was going to include it in my new book but decided it didn’t fit.)
I hadn’t seen Golestan’s extraordinary stack since that day in the late ’90s until last night when I saw Mitra Farahani’s mesmerizing See You Friday, Robinson. The film, which runs December 14-20 at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, is a series of weekly long-distance calls between Golestan and Jean-Luc Godard, the latter at his home in Rolle, Switzerland. Filmed in 2014, the documentary is as inspired as it is unusual. Farahani, an Iranian expat who has made other documents on aging artists (I reviewed her “Fifi Howls from Happiness” here), was a producer on two late Godard films and thought working with him and Golestan was bound to lead to some interesting ones exchange would lead. She was right. Since their email messages were sent on Friday, Godard suggested a nod to “See you Friday, Robinson.” Robinson Crusoe.