Makhmalbaf was born in Tehran on May 29, 1957. He
began to support his single mother at the age of 8 and by the time he
turned 17, he had worked as bellboy, plains worker and anything else he
could find in the 13 jobs he went through.
A youngster in the southern districts of Tehran,
Mohsen formed an under-ground Islamic militia group since he was 15 and
by the time he was 17, he was shot and arrested while attempting to
disarm a policeman. Expecting to remain in prison for much longer, he
was released from prison shortly after the revolution in 1979. The
4½-year incarceration helped him to educate himself in various fields
and reflect on life and Iranian society. This intellectual renaissance
led him to distance himself from politics and in favor of literature and
the arts, especially cinema. He came to believe that Iranian society
suffers more from cultural poverty than anything else.
Mohsen Makhmalbaf became a writer and filmmaker in
post-revolutionary Iran. His literary activities included research into
the arts, novels, short stories and screenplays, some of them translated
to English, French, Italian, Arabic, Urdu, Kurdish, Turkish, Korean,
Portuguese, Greek, Russian, and Japanese.
He wrote and directed 18 feature films and 6 short
films, as well as writing screenplays and editing films for various
other Iranian filmmakers. His films screened more than 100 times at
international film festivals throughout the world, and earned many
In 1996 he temporarily abandoned his filmmaking career
in order to teach. He formed the Makhmalbaf Film House in which he
taught film to a select group of pupils including his own three
children. He is currently conducting research for his upcoming film
after several years of cinematic silence.
His research for the movie Kandahar included
traveling secretly to Afghanistan during the Taliban rule, where he
witnessed the chaotic situation of the country, becoming so disturbed
that, after the completion of the film, he took charge of executing 80
projects in a 2 year period on education and hygiene within Afghanistan
as well as improving the living conditions of Afghan refugees in Iran.
Many of Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s works have been censored
and neglected in Iran.
Mohsen Makhmalbaf is a major figure in Iranian cinema.
His films have explored the relationship between the individual and a
larger social and political environment. As a result, his work serves as
an extended commentary on the historical progression of the Iranian
state and its people. And if Makhmalbaf's films are at times polemical,
he nonetheless brings a poet's sensibility to urgent and eternal
issues—faith, love, regret, suffering, injustice—of the human condition.
In 1981 he wrote the screenplay for Towjeeh
directed by Manuchehr Haghaniparast. In 1982 he wrote the screenplay for
Marg Deegari directed by Mohamad Reza Honarmand. He made his
first film Tobeh Nosuh in 1983.
Boycott is a 1985 film by
Mohsen Makhmalbaf, set in pre-revolutionary Iran. The movie tells the
story of a young man named Valeh (Majid Majidi) who is sentenced to
death for his communist tendencies. It is widely believed that the movie
is based on Makhmalbaf’s own experiences.
Mohsen Makhmalbaf creates a spare and deeply affecting
portrait of human despair, exploitation, and resilience in The Cyclist
(1987). The movie is about Nasim, a poor Afghan refugee in Iran, who is
in desperate need of money for his ailing wife. Finally Nasim agrees to
ride a bicycle in a small circle for one week straight in return for the
money he needs to pay his wife’s medical bills.
Time of Love (1991) is
Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s ninth feature film and the first film of what he
calls his "third period". It is a romantic trilogy that offers three
variations of the same story.
Makhmalbaf directed Gabbeh in 1996. The film
follows the nomadic Ghashghai people, whose bright, bold carpets tell
stories. The main yarn features a young woman who loves a mysterious
stranger, but is forbidden to marry him. Makhmalbaf attempts to follow
the carpet idea by making his film dreamily romantic and non-realistic.
Events seem to leap around in time and space, much like a dream.
Kandahar (2001) is a fictional odyssey inspired by a
true story. It is Makhmalbaf's look at Afghanistan before Sept. 11, as
the Taliban's laws strip women of civil rights and hope, and a
Western-cultured Afghan woman returns to prevent her sister's suicide
during the last eclipse of the 20th century.
He has also taught cinema for years in his film
school. His family members who studied in his school have been very
successful in their career. Marziyeh Meshkini, his wife, gained thirteen
international prizes for her film,
The Day I Became a Woman, and his daughter Samira received the
jury's prize at the Cannes film festival in 2000. His younger daughter
Hana directed her first film Joy of Madness in 2003. In 2000
Boston University awarded Makhmalbaf its Special Prize.
Makhmalbaf also founded a non-governmental
organization for enabling Afghan children to go to school in Iran; by
means of changes in Iranian laws due to his campaigns, he succeeded in
sending tens of thousands of Afghan children to schools in Iran.
He has also published 27 books, many of which have
already been translated in more than ten languages.