Appropriate Behaviour: An Interview with Desiree Akhavan and Cecilia Frugiuele

Maya Caspari

26 Feb 2015
Ahead of the Appropriate Behaviour screening and director Q&A, we caught up with producer Cecilia Frugiuele and director Desiree Akhavan.

Ahead of our screening of Appropriate Behaviour, Maya Caspari caught up with producer Cecilia Frugiuele and director Desiree Akhavan to talk about comedy, sexuality and the dangers of being pigeonholed. Desiree Akhavan directed, wrote and starred in Appopriate Behaviour, her debut feature film.

What is the significance of the title Appropriate Behaviour? Does the film seek to challenge conventional expectations of what is appropriate?

DA: Here is a woman [central protagonist, Shirin] who is incapable of being appropriate in any situation she finds herself in. She’s been born into several marginalized communities, with specific codes of conduct. She can’t manage to follow the rules or fit in anywhere. 

Appopriate Behaviour is your debut feature film. How was the experience of creating it different from that of previous projects?

DA: I didn’t expect the editing process to be so difficult or how much the film would change during that process! Editing a feature film is an entirely different beast from editing shorts.

To what extent did you draw on your own experiences to create the film?

DA: First and foremost, I wanted to make a funny, entertaining film that people could relate to no matter what their background. At the time that I was writing I was dealing with a breakup and the aftermath of having come out to my family, so that was on my mind, but the events and characters in the film are mostly fictional and absurd.

The film has been likened to Woody Allen’s Annie Hall and also to recent projects that are seen to challenge conventional representations of female sexuality, such as Lena Dunham’s series Girls, in which Desiree is due to appear next season. How would you place the film? Were you consciously trying to do something new with it?

DA: I’d like to think that every filmmaker is trying to do something new. I’d never seen a story that depicted a person like me with my very specific sense of humour. Of course, a lot speaks to me, but it never comes from the voice of someone from a marginalized community. It was important for me to depict Iranians and gays as real people, funny people - neither victims nor villains.

CF: But it wasn’t deliberate. There’s definitely a trend of women making films who want to honestly portray their experience of sex and their bodies, however we didn’t set out to make the Iranian bisexual Frances Ha. The fact that Desiree and Shirin are so defined by their nationality and sexuality could have somehow pigeonholed the film but I always thought it was one of its strengths. It got me excited to explore Desiree’s unique way of experiencing the world.

Desiree, in the past you have said that your work is 'inherently political'. How does comedy work as a political form here?

DA: I don’t think watching something with a message needs to feel like taking your medicine.

What is coming up next for both of you?

DA: Our next project is an adaptation of a Young Adult novel. We’re currently working on the script.■

Come and hear more from Desiree Akhavan at the director Q&A and special preview screening of Appropriate Behaviour on February 27 2015. The film will be shown at the ICA Cinema from 27 February 2015.

Watch the Appropriate Behaviour trailer.