The Iranian film "Midday Adventures," directed by Mohammad Hossein Mahdavian, begins in Tehran on June 19, 1981, 26 months after the Islamic Revolution and nine months after the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq War.
“This film is based on a true story. However, for security reasons, certain characters’ names have been changed.” Narrating real events, the opening scenes show a busy street in the Iranian capital, with people chanting political slogans, some in support of the Islamic Republic and others in opposition. Amid the crowd, a woman climbs atop a vehicle to read out a political statement; then, suddenly, an angry man drags her down. Pandemonium breaks out. People set a vehicle on fire and continue to chant angry slogans.
Summary Addressing the turbulent years following the 1979 Islamic Revolution, "Midday Adventures" addresses a divisive part of Iranian history from a new perspective.
A man who is later revealed to be an intelligence agent working for the nascent revolutionary government is seen taking pictures of the crowd. The story of "Midday Adventures" is the official narrative of an era in the history of the Islamic Republic that authorities still view as highly sensitive, blurry and violent. The film narrates events up until Feb. 8, 1982, portraying the violence perpetrated by members of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), including bombings and assassinations, and intelligence agents’ efforts to identify and arrest the leaders of the group.
In the years leading up to the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the MEK was the largest religious organization that espoused armed resistance against the shah’s regime. Upon the victory of the revolution in early 1979, it issued a message congratulating “the leader [Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini] and the people of Iran.” However, in the ensuing months and years, serious political and ideological disagreements emerged between the MEK and the rulers of the Islamic Republic.
In a conversation with Al-Monitor, the film's director, Mahdavian, 36, said the film is the result of his fellow scriptwriter Ebrahim Amini and producer Seyed Mahmoud Razavi’s personal interest in the events that took place in Iran during the turbulent 1980s.
In addition to archives, official sources and publications of the Islamic Revolution Documents Center, the most important sources for Mahdavian’s research were the memoirs written by intelligence officials who were active during the 1980s. “I had a couple of reasons for deciding to narrate the story from the perspective of the intelligence forces. One is that I do not believe in armed resistance and do not consider it defensible. Therefore, when I narrate the story from the point of view of the intelligence forces, my mind is at ease since I know that they are agents of the law fighting against violence and insecurity," he said.
"Midday Adventures" was screened at the Fajr International Film Festival in Tehran in February and won Crystal Simorgh awards for best film, best costume design and best set design, as well as the audience award. In addition, it won a Golden Simorgh for best film with a national view.
On July 15, the Islamic Revolution Documents Center published an article about a meeting between the film crew and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The session, which reportedly took place on Feb. 19, saw Khamenei praising the film, saying, “All the components of this film were great. The directing was great, the acting was great, the story was great. The film was well made.”
Upon its launch, the film did well at the box office, with long lines of spectators and additional screenings scheduled in some theaters. However, at the same time, political prisoners who had been jailed in the 1980s, along with their families, strongly protested and criticized the film.
At an April 16 film critique session organized by the Islamic Association of Students at Tarbiat Modares University in Tehran, historian Hashem Aghajari stated that the “one-sided narrative” of the film makes it difficult to comment on it from a historical point of view. Aghajari, who was an MEK sympathizer until a few years before the revolution, noted, “Unfortunately, this film does not provide young viewers with any significant historical information. When we watch this film, we don’t learn why these events took place or why MEK members did what they did.”
Mahdavian responded to the criticism by saying that he does not believe cinema should be subservient to either history or politics, or that it should be their media. He emphasized that cinema has its own style of narration, saying, “My goal was to debate the issue of security and violence, and I used the events of the 1980s to do so. I believe that the audience left with an understanding about these issues. They might not care about who the MEK members were or what has happened to them.”
In the Islamic Republic’s official discourse, the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, which literally means "Holy Warriors of the People," is referred to as the Monafeqeen, or "Hypocrites." The latter is a Quranic term used for people who have left the Islamic faith but continue to present themselves as Muslims. But why was this label stamped on the MEK?
Political and ideological differences between the leaders of the MEK and some prominent clerics affiliated with the Islamic Republic precede the revolution, when both sides fought the shah’s regime alongside each other. After the revolution, amid the continuation of these differences, the MEK boycotted the December 1979 referendum on the constitution of the Islamic Republic, which saw 99.5% of participants vote in favor.
A few months later, on the eve of Iran’s first presidential election, Massoud Rajavi, who was then one of the leaders of the MEK, was disqualified by Khomeini over his lack of commitment to the constitution of the Islamic Republic. Subsequently, the MEK shifted its support to Abolhassan Bani Sadr, the candidate endorsed by Khomeini. At the same time, the group continued to publicly criticize the policies of the Islamic Republic. In response, its cadre was forbidden from conducting political activities and MEK newspapers were banned while some high-ranking members were arrested.
Bani Sadr took office in February 1980. Soon, however, the president, the parliament and Khomeini started having differences regarding the makeup of the Cabinet. These differences eventually resulted in Bani Sadr’s impeachment. On June 18, 1981, the MEK issued a statement in support of Bani Sadr and called on its supporters to take to the streets. The day after, on June 19, violent demonstrations took place in various cities and numerous MEK members were killed and many others were arrested. The organization thus returned to its policy of armed resistance. Following the execution of some of its members, the situation quickly escalated, with the MEK launching a string of assassinations and bombings targeting prominent revolutionary figures. On June 27, a bomb exploded at the headquarters of the Islamic Republican Party, killing more than 72 officials, including the chief justice, four Cabinet ministers and 23 parliamentarians.
In spite of criticism, "Midday Adventures" has been better received than other films about the MEK. Mahdavian believes this is because his views on cinema and its audiences are different from other filmmakers. “I try to make a film for the public. My spectators are cinema lovers; they are not historians or political analysts,” he said.