Reza Sixo Safai on his Film "The Persian Connection"

Masood Khatamee

Samuel Goldwyn Films is releasing its first Iranian film, The Persian Connection this week on July 14th. This stylish neon-noir thriller is set in the opium underworld of "Tehrangeles" and features a protagonist who was a child soldier during the Iran-Iraq War.  The film premiered at TriBeCa 2106 to rave reviews. Reza Sixo Safai produced the film and plays the lead role; he spoke with us about it below.

Q:  The protagonist in this film was a child soldier in the Iran-Iraq War.  How much does that experience define the character?  Was it common for children to fight in the war?  Also - Does the fact that the protagonist experienced the Iran-Iraq War bring something to the story in a way that perhaps another war wouldn’t?

Safai:  That experience is everything, defines everything. Now as human beings we all do our best to live, no matter what tragedy strikes us, we still do our best to go on living. But that pain is always there somewhere underneath, waiting for the right moment when it can come rushing out. You know, initially the idea for this film came from a few different past experiences: the main one being the tragic death of someone extremely close to me as a direct result of PTSD he suffered from serving on the front lines of the Iran-Iraq War. He volunteered to go because he thought it was unfair that people of privilege could get out of it. I remember vividly, like it was yesterday, after he miraculously survived the front lines and left Iran to come live with us in America - we were watching TV, to better his English skills and familiarize him with popular culture. The show M.A.S.H. was on. I looked over at him and, oddly, he looked distant, very stern and extremely pained. I asked him what the matter was, unsure why this normally gentle, sweet man had turned ultra serious. He then locked eyes with me, trying to make absolutely certain that I would never forget what he would utter in almost a whisper: "Reza, there's nothing funny about war." Still sends chills down my spine when I think about it.

He then went on to pursue and ultimately achieve the American Dream in both work and family. Years later, on a cool afternoon in Washington, DC I received a phone call that brought me to tears. Immediately after I learned of his suicide, I was devastated that he had never been able to shake free from the deep rooted pain he carried with him.

And in preparing to play Behrouz, the protagonist, I interviewed other Iran-Iraq War veterans living in the US and the stories I heard were truly horrific. Blood curdling next level horror. It became even more evident to me that Behrouz would be carrying that inside at all times, as I said earlier, waiting to erupt. 

Q:  How much does Persian culture feature in this film?  What will a viewer who may not be steeped in the culture learn about it after viewing?

Safai:  This film isn't about portraying culture per se or teaching about Iranian culture in the traditional sense. Besides enjoying the ride we take them on, my hope is that people will begin to talk and maybe think a bit about the Iran-Iraq War, a war which most people in the west know nothing about. It was absolutely brutal. WWI style trench warfare that killed close to 2 million people by some estimates. And even though our film is bathed in genre, we also hold a neon sign to martyrdom, to Jihad and the child’s foolish vision of Paradise to individual liberty, to freedom and the romantic and perhaps nihilistic pursuit of the American Dream. An Iranian gangster fairytale. What more could you possibly want?

Q:  Will The Persian Connection be available in Iran?  Do you know whether any of your prior films have been available there (or perhaps viewed by Iranians via satellite/VPNs)?  If so – what kind of reaction have you received?   

Safai:  I'm certain it'll become a big black market film in Iran as my films CIRCUMSTANCE and A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT became. I still receive messages from Iran praising the previous films. Makes my heart sing when I receive those messages.  

Q:  Your last film – A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night was described by one reviewer as an “Iranian romantic vampire thriller blending spaghetti western, graphic novel and 1950 rebel flicks while making a social statement regarding Muslim women.”  Quite the combination!   The Persian Connection also seems to draw on various influences; how would you describe them?  Is it attempting to make a social statement?

Safai:  These films reflect a lot about who I am as an Iranian/American and the many interests I have. A mix of all that we love and are boldly drawn to. I'd have to say The Persian Connection is an Iranian gangster neon-noir fairtytale made by Gaspar Noe and David Lynch's lovechild - aka Daniel Grove. 

The film will be available on cable on demand and digital July 25th.


About Reza Sixo Safai

Born in Iran, Reza Sixo Safai co-starred in the 2011 Sundance Audience Winner CIRCUMSTANCE, prompting the Huffington Post to declare that he “deserves to be a frontrunner for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar." The film went on to win key awards at OUTFEST, Rome, Madrid and NYC New Fest, in addition to earning a Spirit Award Nomination for Best Film. Since Reza's short film THE MARIO VALDEZ STORY took home 2nd place at Cannes and the award winning short A BETTER PLACE THAN THIS became PBS' flagship film, he has been a mainstay in the US indie film scene as both an actor and producer in many films including AUSTIN FOUND, PREVERTERE and SHAH BOB. The first film from his newly minted shingle Black Light District was the Sundance sensation A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT, the world's first Iranian Vampire/Western that made many top 10 lists for 2014 including NewsweekThe New Republic and Salon. In addition to winning a Gotham Award, the film received Spirit Award Nominations for Best First Film, Best Cinematography and the "Someone to Watch" Award. Along with Elijah Wood, Reza executive produced and played Rockabilly. After the PERSIAN CONNECTION, his next leading role will be in the French/Thai co production A BETTER PLACE THAN THIS, a feature adaptation of the award winning short. The script was an SFFS/KRF finalist along with Sundance winner FRUITVALE STATION and SXSW winner SHORT TERM 12. Previously, he has produced more than fifty short films and over 30 fashion films.