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Life in a dictatorship: 'Tomorrow we are free'

Jochen Kürten db
November 14, 2019

An amazing debut: In "Tomorrow we are free," Iranian director Hossein Pourseifi — who has long lived in Germany — connects life in his home country to communist East Germany.

Film still tomorrow we are free woman with a coat and headscarf
Image: Little Dream Entertainment

Germany just celebrated the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. 2019 saw the 40th anniversary of another historic event of global political significance, too: the Iranian Revolution, in 1979.

Tomorrow we are free is a new film that interweaves East Germany's history with the more recent history of Iran. The film directed by Hossein Pourseifi, who has lived in Germany for many years, celebrates its international premiere at the prestigious film festival in Tallinn/Estonia on Friday. Along with Cannes, Venice and Berlin, Tallinn is on the international film festival circuit of so called A-list festivals.

Read more: 'Born in Evin': Processing the trauma of the Iranian Revolution

A film about lost hope

Tomorrow we are free is the story of a young family in the GDR. Beate (top picture), a German chemistry graduate, is married to Omid, an Iranian in exile who has lived in East Germany for many years. The couple have a young daughter.

Their lives are affected by events unfolding in Iran: In 1979, the Shah is overthrown in Iran and the Ayatollah Khomeini returns from exile in Paris, welcomed enthusiastically by hundreds of thousands of his fellow countrymen.

Khameini in Paris 1978
Ayatollah Khomeini in Paris in 1978Image: picture alliance/IMAGNO/Votava

Director Hossein Pourseifi based the story for his debut on authentic events. "The principal idea is based on what happened to a family I met 12 years ago in Berlin," Pourseifi told DW.

At the outset of the film, Omid watches events unfold in Iran — and wants to return. "As soon as the revolution was underway, he felt the need to return to his old homeland," Pourseifi said, adding that Omid's German wife decides she and their daughter will go with him. The film addresses the loss of a home country, linked to the social and political new beginnings in Iran.

Film still Tomorrow we are free , a man bends to kiss a child asleep on a woman's lap
Beate and Omid hope for a good life in Iran Image: Little Dream Entertainment

'Life in Germany had a greater impact'

Pourseifi was also inspired by his own experiences for the film: "I found the idea of turning that story into a film exciting because two aspects of my own biography are part of it," he said. "I spent the first nine years of my life in Iran, a time connected with memories of my family and the time after the revolution, and then, there's the German perspective, because I actually grew up in Germany."

As he was only nine years old when he came to Germany, the years that followed shaped him more strongly, he said: "I couldn't resist the idea of combining these two parts of my life."

Omid, Beate and their daughter move to Tehran. It's a fresh start, with Beate working as a chemist and Omid as a journalist. Tomorrow we are free presents the image of Iran as a nation on the move. In the first months after the fall of the Shah, the country finds itself in a kind of euphoria. Everything seems possible.

Read more: Orange, green or black: The colors of revolutions

Film still tomorrow we are free  man , woman and a child holding a plate with a piece of cake and a candle
Beate's mother-in-law takes a traditional view of a woman's role Image: Little Dream Entertainment

East Germany after the war; Iran after 1979

The situation can't be compared with that of the eastern part of Germany after the end of World War II. The film draws a few parallels, however, including the fact that "a German woman from another kind of dictatorship (the GDR) enters a situation (in post-revolutionary Iran) where anything seems possible, where you project what you want into it," the director said. It is "a kind of 'zero hour' for a new society that people aren't really familiar with yet."

Initially, the film focuses on Beate, and the role of women. In East Germany, Beate felt emancipated, she had a job and she was respected. "She is open-minded, goes through the world with open eyes, thinks out of the box, is ready for something new," the director characterizes his female protagonist.

Pourseifi looks at women's roles

What roles do women play in Iran today? What rights do they have? "The position of women is a point that was very important to us in our film," the director says. "For 40 years, women in the Islamic Republic have been living under a kind of gender apartheid — from the very beginning."

Read more: Visions of Iran: Film festival tells stories from a country of contradictions

Iranian women in a soccer stadium
In October, Iran lifted a ban on women in soccer stadiumsImage: Getty Images/AFP/Stringer

Slight improvements introduced recently haven't changed that, he says. The fact that the international community celebrated a few hundred women visiting a football stadium "is very shameful for the rulers of a society whose women should be much freer and of course want to be," he says. Pourseifi says he wanted to show "that women were the first and biggest victims of this revolution and unfortunately that has not changed yet."

Movie poster for Tomorrow e are free, man and woman kissing
The German movie poster for the film 'Tomorrow we are free' Image: Little Dream Entertainment

'Flagging dreams'

Soon, Beate is disillusioned. Her curiosity about the world becomes her downfall when she is caught in the whirlpool of revolution, the director argues. "Her hopes are dashed, too."

Perhaps that is the similarity to the GDR that started out with "the dream of (real) socialism at the beginning, with all the hopes that accompany a new beginning," says the director. "These dreams probably existed in the GDR as well, but at some point they fizzled out."

Tomorrow we are free is a convincingly played and staged film about social and individual hopes, about the shattered dreams of an entire society. Pourseifi manages to tell stories from two very different cultures and nations. Basically, the message of the film is as simple as it is clear: People want to move freely, they do not want the state to tell them how to live their lives.