This is a very interesting documentary. "The Queen and I" is something this reporter happened to stumble across on NetFlix. One of the things that stuck me the most was the contrasts between the two women. And, yet what they shared in common.
Film-maker Nahid Persson Sarvestani was born and raised in Iran and recalls her initial admiration of the Persian royal family as a child years before the revolution of 1979.
Sarvestani who eventually fled to Sweden and now is established there, narrates the documentary. The framework of the documentary centers upon her struggles to get permission to film the exiled queen Farah Pahlavi. Mixed in are her recollections of a pre-revolutionary Iran amid deeply expressed feelings about the impact the revolution had upon her life personally and how it still has a hold over the Iranian people.
Sarvestani lost two of her brothers in the revolution, something she feels tremendous sorrow and even some guilt about. In pre-revolutionary Iran, there was much more freedom, especially for women and Sarvestani was part of that wave of cultural expression.
Yet, while that freedom was being enjoyed, it did not remedy the divide between the very rich and the poor. The Shah and his court lived in a fantasy realm of extreme wealth and privilege. And, while more social freedoms were enjoyed at that time, the reign of Shah Pahlavi was not just. Anyone who questioned his authority was punished.
Sarvestani points out that while she initially supported the basic reforms of the revolution in the very beginning, (as it was supported by university students) she like many people soon found out that the new theocracy was also tyrannical.
At first this reporter thought the film would suddenly turn confrontational as the two women met. Sort of like a Marie Antoinette or an Imelda Marcos-type of figure, was my impression at first of the former queen, totally oblivious to the sharp contrast between the people and the Peacock throne.
Yet as the documentary unfolded, with many clips and historical references, all in subtitles, it was clear to me that something more significant was happening.
These two women were trying to find a dialogue between them to help heal a painful part of their shared history. I say shared history because despite the class differences both women suffered a collective loss also shared by millions of fellow Iranians.
Like Sarvestani I too, felt compassion for former Queen Farah. Whatever shortcomings and aloofness she might have had in the past, certainly now has been purged out of her.
Queen Farah has had her share of loss and suffering too. Some of those sufferings too complicated to share in such a short article. Yet, when looking at the complicated aspects of that part of the world, it is amazing that these two women survived at all. Both could have easily met their fates as casualties of a civil war. Yet both were determined to carry on.
Queen Farah made note in the film how very painful and confusing it was to be welcomed and then shunned almost simultaneously. When the Shah was exiled from the country, he and Queen Farah went from place to place trying to find sanctuary this went on for months. It was made more complicated when the Shah was diagnosed with a terminal illness.
"One place they would be rolling out the red carpet for us and the next they would have us detained and finger-printed at the airport," noted Queen Farah.
This reporter was a freshman in high school when news of the revolution and the taking over of the American Embassy in Tehran hit the world stage. It was easy to view this upheaval as insane and find fault with one side or the other. As a matter of fact, at my high school there were two foreign exchange students from Iran. Looking back, I clearly remember how much the attitude had changed. They were wonderful, always polite and good-natured. Yet at the time as news of the hostage crisis became a daily account with yellow ribbons tied around trees on campus, people formed opinions and ostracized them. Yet, I remember how noble they remained despite the reactions they encountered.
I also realize now how sheltered we Americans are and have been for most of the past two centuries. Other nations and parts of world are not as fortunate to have stable government, clean water, and free education. There is so much that we Americans take as granted, where as people from other parts of the world can only dream about it.
Taking the time to watch Sarvestani's work, helped me to better understand the complexities and to suspend the inclination to judge.
This documentary also shows a more complicated aspect that goes beyond the news headlines and simplified scenarios. The film gave me the impression that The Shah was a tyrant, misguided and egotistical perhaps, but what about the theocracy that took his place?
And, to make matters worse after the revolution, Iran was then plunged into an eight-year long war with Iraq. More strife and sorrow to add to the confusion. This is something that Americans overlook and tend to get too polarized in their view of the situation.
There is no easy point of view when looking at the situation with Iran and that part of the world. Yet for me Sarvestani's documentary keeps in focus the humanity and the hope that some day this troubled part of the world will heal itself and become a truly free nation.