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Iran's Islamic revolution took place thirty years ago. Ever since then the former Empress of Iran, Farah Pahlavi, has lived in exile, giving only limited interviews to journalists. But now she’s given unprecedented access to a Swedish based Iranian born filmmaker who persuaded her to participate in a full-length documentary.
It was a fairytale romance between the Shah of Iran and his Queen, but regal rule ended when the couple left Iran at the time of the Islamic Revolution, forced into exile, shuttling from one country to another until the Shah died in 1980.
Over eighteen months, finishing last August, the Shah’s widow opened up her life to Nahid Persson Sarvestani, a Swedish based Iranian filmmaker to whom the former empress gave the director a lot of access.
The film is not just an account of big events in her life; she is seen going about her daily routines, discussing her lack of romantic involvement since the Shah’s death, and personal heartaches like the death of her daughter in 2001.
She defends the Shah but concedes they were problems with the country's intelligence agency. So why did she decide to open up and give so much of her time to the director?
"She said to me that many filmmakers and journalist want to make filmsw about her but she said no to every body," she explains. "But she likes the films I did before because one of them was against the current regime, so she said ok."
But there was a problem – as a young girl in Iran, the director had been a communist fighting to topple the shah. The former empress hadn’t known this when she agreed to participate in the film.
"Two weeks [into the filming] her secretary called me and said 'I know that you are a former communist'," explains the director. "After that she stopped filming. After six months when I sent her a trailer, she liked the trailer, she said ok you can come back and film me again.
"As you can see in the film, I criticize her husband a lot but at the same time I was so curious about that woman. The film is not about the Shah, it is about Farah Pahlavi."
It’s a sympathetic portrayal that emerges. It could be seen as a public relations exercise to enhance the image of the former empress, but the filmmaker maintains she never ceded editorial control. The two women seemed to have a lot in common and ahve ended up as friends.
"We wish we could go back to Iran," says Persson Sarvestani. "it doesn't matter if she was former queen and married to a dictator, or if I was a communist, now we have the same problem, we have the same enemy."