Q&A: Kaveh Mazaheri’s ‘Retouch’ is Hauntingly Thoughtful

In RETOUCH, when her husband suffers a serious accident, Maryam makes a fateful choice. Directed by Kaveh Mazaheri.

Screening in the I’ll Be On My Way shorts program at HIFF25.

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What an amazing yet shocking film you’ve made! Please describe RETOUCH in your own words.

Kaveh Mazaheri: Thank you so much. RETOUCH is a minimal and somehow complex narration of the life of a woman named Maryam. As she is going to work one day, suddenly her husband is put in a life and death situation. At first, Maryam tries to help him, but in an instant she just stops helping and decides to watch him to die.

What inspired you to make this picture?

Kaveh Mazaheri: A few years ago, I was watching a video online, in which a boy fixed his mobile on a desk in make a film of himself. Then he laid under a barbell trying to lift it up. The barbell weight seemed about 100 KG, more or less. Usually when somebody does this, they ask a partner to help; nobody does it alone, and it can be very dangerous. Anyway, the boy did it. He lifted the barbell up and down and again tried to lift it up, but he couldn’t. All these moments were recorded by video. That was such a terrible moment; the boy was really about to die. He was yelling under the barbell. After two minutes his struggling started to look hilarious: he was not able to do anything and there was nobody to help him. After five minutes the video was cut and the boy was safe. I don’t know how he was rescued. This video spread everywhere.

I thought to myself: I watched for five minutes without blinking and it turned from a normal situation to a terrible situation and then quickly moved to a hilarious one—this could be a great idea for a short film. It was in my mind for some months until I could find the main character. But what made me confident to make the film was finding the ending. I wrote other shots based on the ending like other filmmakers.

How is it different than the films and documentaries you have made in the past? What did you learn this time around? 

Kaveh Mazaheri: The only difference is that in a fiction film, I would like to get close to the psychological aspect of the characters, while I don’t like to do that at all in the documentaries. In a fiction film, I want to penetrate people’s inner self, but I am only an observer in a documentary, because I am faced with real people and I can never allow myself ethically to analyze the psychological dimensions of a real person.

But I think I act similarly during the shooting. For example, in RETOUCH, I insisted that the house of the main character (played by Sonia Sanjari) be her real house in her life outside the film. Because I believed the spirit of life flew in that house and the house carried the energy to the character. Many may think it was a stupid and unprofessional decision, but that is what I have learned from making documentaries. While directing RETOUCH I tried to use the camera as a mere observer.

What are you hoping Hamptons audiences take away from your film? What does RETOUCH mean to you?

Kaveh Mazaheri: I would like to leave the audience with confused moods and disconnected minds when they leave the movie theater. In the second question, I can say that silence is not always a sign of satisfaction.

Check out the screening of RETOUCH in the I’ll Be On My Way shorts program at HIFF25. Find tickets. Follow RETOUCH on Facebook and Twitter