American Fugitive: The Truth About Hassan

    1 May 2006, early morning

American Fugitive: The Truth About Hassan is a film about the Hassan Abdulrahman. He is probably most well known for killing the Ali Akbar Tabatabai, the former press attaché for the Shah of Iran, at the behest of the Iranian government — and presumable Khomeini himself. Hassan then fled to Iran, where he has been living for the past 25 years. I first read about his story in the book The Rose Garden of the Martyrs, where he gives a short interview about what led him from America to Iran. The movie is a much more thorough examination of the man, and to a lesser extent the circumstances around the murder.

I found the film a bit muddled. As a movie looking into the heart of Hassan, trying to discover who he is and why he killed, I would argue the film is actually quite shallow. You leave the film with a strong empathy for Hassan; It’s hard not to as he is a very intelligent and thoughtful person. It is clear he has reflected on what he has done in the past, and reconciled the murder he has committed as best he can. The film humanizes his side of the story. Still, at the end of the day, there is another side of this story that involves a widow and girl without a father; this side of the story is largely ignored. People are not just the sum total of their words and thoughts; our actions and deeds play just as important a part in defining who we are. The film dances around the murder, without actually taking a hard look its true effects. I think that if the audience doesn’t understand the net effect of the murder, they can’t hope to understand Hassan and why he did what he did. Film maker Jean-Daniel Lafond interviews Tabatabai’s brother, but his time on camera is spent discussing conspiracy theories. We only learn of Tabatabai’s wife and daughter in passing. (Abdulrahman’s family mentions that Tabatabai’s family has fallen apart after his death.) It’s not Lafond’s job to be fair in making a film; this isn’t a movie about Tabatabai, someone else can make such a film. However, I do think that by leaving Tabatabai out of the story as much as Lafond has, we can’t hope to understand what drives a man such as Hassan to murder. The film wastes a lot of screen time talking about conspiracy theories around the murder, and the relationship the Republicans may have had with Iran’s regime. This is all interesting, but really belongs in another movie. This time could have been put to better use. I think Tabatabai’s wife and daughter on screen would have made the film more interesting.

If the film is good, it is because Hassan Abdulrahman is a very interesting man. The movie is probably worth watching just to hear him speak.

An Aside: The beauty of Hotdocs is that if you have questions about the film you are watching you can ask them, which is what I did: “Did you make any attempt to contact the victim’s family?” Lafond looked at me like I was an idiot; so did the host from Hotdocs. I thought they hadn’t heard me, so I asked the question again, louder. Their looks didn’t change. The crowd murmured. And then someone yelled out, “The brother was in the film.” To say I felt like an idiot would be an understatement. I tried to clarify my question, “No, I meant his daughter, his—”, but by then I think people were annoyed I had wasted all their time. Sucks. Shima and Patrick both had questions they had wanted to ask, but were too embarrassed after my gaff.

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Comments

  1. what i wouldn’t have paid to be there.

  2. It really wasn’t all to exciting. And I mean, it isn’t like you haven’t heard me say stupid things before. I say dumb stuff all the time. I wasn’t all too embarassed anyway; it’s not like I care what perfect strangers think of me.

  3. I still think you should have turned to Shima after you asked the question and said: “SEE?! I told you his brother was interviewed!” haha

    A lot of the other questions asked were sort of redundant too. I think yours just stood out more because yours was the first question asked haha. I bet you if the girl that asked that question in french asked what you asked, but in French, the reaction would have been subtler.

  4. For my sake, I think it’s time to learn French, Ramanan! :”>

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