Without My Daughter

(Photo Courtesy IDFA 2002)
Who could ever forget the terrifying plight of Betty Mahmoody (as played by Sally Field) when it was served up before us a little more than a decade ago in the film "Not Without My Daughter"? Based on Mrs. Mahmoody's best-selling novel which describes the American wife's plight and flight out of Teheran across the desert accompanied by her 6-year-old daughter, Mahtob. After being held allegedly captive by her husband for eighteen months, she was glad to finally reach the shores of Western civilization once again, where she could resume her private life and begin writing.*

Ah, but where does truth lie? This new documentary, anno 2002, directed by Alexis Kouros and Kari Tervo presents the Iranian father's point of view and this tale, though diametrically opposed to the first one, also bears listening. Dr. Sayyed Bozorg Mahmoody has unsuccessfully been attempting to make contact with his daughter for the past sixteen years. In this film he calmly, sometimes sadly, reminisces about the past and tells how things were according to his version. The testimony of family friends in Teheran, amongst them other American women, who have taken up residence in Iran, also seem to contradict Betty's statements and writings. But then again, one must question how reliable these witnesses are and whether their personal agendas are influenced by opposing incentives? The film does not present itself as a way toward unraveling the difficult questions surrounding the Mahmoody family, but further complicating the puzzle.

Most striking of all the interviews, however, is one with the American judge involved in the case. He reacts amiably enough to Mr. Mahmoody while questions are being presented by the hapless father, but all the hopeless man's requests are to no avail. Later in the film, the same judge is seen venting his pent-up feelings against the Iranians when stating what actions he would have taken against them if he had been present on the battlefield during the Gulf War. It is disappointing to watch this dispenser of the law, along with other various representatives of a legal system, reacting not directly to the situation at hand, but to the emotionally induced politics and social policies prevalent at the time of the court's ruling (and still to date). Security undoubtedly remains a necessity for the protection of the nation, but intelligence should also be applied in equal quantity when dispensing justice. Mr. Mahmoody has become listed as an undesirable alien and will no longer be permitted entrance into the US, whether it be to search for his daughter or otherwise.

IDFA 2002
It is also interesting to note that the scenarist for the Hollywood film version of Mrs. Mahmoody's book was the same scenarist who wrote "Midnight Express." Both of these scripts contain a powerfully built structure successful to action filming which, incidentally, seem to express a similarly strongly sentiment toward foreign elements. This does not necessarily mean that the reality was altered for dramatic effect, but remains yet another detail worth taking notice of and possibly investigating. One might hope that, ten or fifteen years down the road, a filmed interview with the daughter might clear things up, but even that possibility seems doomed to failure, if one considers the influences at work.

One could easily wonder whether or not the truth behind the story emanates from a desire for revenge on both the husband's and wife's side in a marriage gone wrong and in which the child is the ultimate victim. Of course, none of this is suggested on the screen and one can only surmise that such might possibly be the case by basing this thought upon incidents that have occurred in so many other marriages.

It would be most interesting to view both versions of this story back to back.*

* The 1990 film version of "Not Without My Daughter" will also be screened during the IDFA.

© 1994-2006 The Green Hartnett