‘A Hero’ Director Asghar Farhadi – The Hollywood Reporter
Asghar Farhadi is a brilliant writer and director who, at just 49 years old, is already among the most successful filmmakers ever to emerge from Iran. The Hollywood Reporter has said that Farhadi’s films have “revolutionized the new Iranian cinema, pulling it out of the rut of realism defeated by directors like Abbas Kiarostami and Mohsen MakhmalbafHis films explore the complexities of contemporary life and ethical dilemmas through brilliant screenplays that LA time was compared to a Russian doll, with “inside stories,” and that NPR likened it to an onion: “You peel off one layer and there’s another fresh, ready for you. “
Five of the nine films he has directed have been selected by Iran to represent it in the race for the Best International Film Oscar: 2009 About Elly, 2011 The split, year 2013 Past, 2016 Salesman and this year A hero. Two of them, The split and Salesman, were nominated for that Oscar, and both won. (Farhadi’s original screenplay for the previous installment was also nominated for an Academy Award.) That made him a member of an exclusive club of just six filmmakers — along with Vittorio De Sica, Federico Fellini, Ingmar Bergman, Rene Clement and Akira Kurosawa – who has directed many Academy Award winners for best international film.
Farhadi recently reflected on his life and career on an episode CHEAPThe Awards Talk podcast, recorded in front of students at Chapman University.
Can you start by telling about your childhood?
I was born in Isfahan in 1972. We are four brothers and I am the second. No one around us worked in cinema or a job related to filmmaking. But my grandfather and grandmother were quite close to poetry. In the small town I live near, we don’t have a theater, and we have to drive a long distance to get a chance to see a movie. The first time I saw a movie, we escaped with my cousin to go see a movie. It was in an old theater in Isfahan and we got there in the middle of the movie, so we didn’t see the first half of the movie. And while we were watching this movie, I just looked in the back and said, “Where is this light coming from? How do these appear on the screen? And as we walked out of the theater, I was trying to picture the first half of the movie in my head. And that’s where filmmaking started for me.
You will be 7 years old when some big changes happen in Iran with revolution. I wonder how it has affected your life and the things around you…
I will give you an example. It was the first elementary class I attended, and we were in the same class for a few months when the revolution happened. Our teacher is a well-dressed woman and everyone in the class loves her. Every day I want it to be the next day, so I can get to her as soon as possible. During the revolution, they closed our schools. The next year, there was a man teaching us instead of that woman. For me during those years, the meaning of the revolution was that I had lost someone I loved so much.
Even after the revolution, there is a government-funded program for aspiring young filmmakers, and you are one of the participants. Did you make your first movie at the age of 13?
It’s very strange that when I started making movies at that young age, the audience I was working on was the same subject that I’m working on right now. When I was 13 years old, I didn’t go to any filmmaking classes or any schools. Actually, I don’t know how to make movies. As I was walking down the street, I saw a book in a bookstore in Isfahan called Making movies with Super 8. I bought the book. And the whole book is about cinematography except for the last 10 pages, where it talks about the decoupage part. With those 10 pages, I discovered that when they want to make a movie, they cut it into pieces and they make the movie.
I wrote a script and I went to what they called the young filmmakers’ club and I told them I wanted to make this movie. I was too small. I think they sympathized with me and said, “Okay, let this guy do his movie.” They gave me a Super 8 camera and some rolls of film, and I went and made the movie. And now when I look at my daughter, 13 years old, I think about how these people accepted me as a director to make a movie. Now, I’m not satisfied to say that I made my first movie when I was 13 years old.
I wish I had more than one childhood. I grew up too early.
From there, you studied theater and started writing for radio. This eventually led to writing for TV and then to filmmaking. Can you tell us about the Iranian film industry and how difficult it is to enter?
After I finished my TV series, a film producer contacted me about making a series out of one of the series. There’s a place in the Iranian government called the Ministry of Culture, and you have to show them your script for them to see and allow. At that time, they read it and they told me that it was too dark for us to come and see it. I worked on it and I made the changes. And then it became my second movie, which is Beautiful city. The process of filmmaking in Iran is very similar to other parts of the world in some ways, and in some ways it is very different. Budgets are much lower than budgets for movies in the US or Europe, so it’s easier to make money to make a movie in Iran. Of course, the process of writing a script and giving it to those people to read and license it is different. And after you finish the movie, you have to send it back to them so you can get the license.
Have you ever thought about leaving Iran permanently to make movies?
Sometimes the pressure is so great, I wish there was a second country where I could go and make movies. But whenever you go to another country, other problems start to crop up. When you come to a new country, you don’t know that country well and it is very difficult to work. I’ve done these two films, both in France and in Spain, and I have a great team there. But of course I don’t have the same control or understanding as I had about Iran.
In 2012, you became the first Iranian to win an Oscar when you won Best International Film for The split. You said before that you don’t expect anyone outside of Persian speaking cultures to be able to connect with it.
When I wrote the script, the people who read the script said to me, “Why do you want to make this movie? This is a very local film about Iran and no one outside of Iran can understand this.” And I said, “Well, we’ve made something successful outside of Iran, and let’s do something successful inside Iran.” I’m sure this movie won’t be so successful outside of Iran that we don’t even have the budget for subtitles. Someone from the Berlin Film Festival said they wanted to see the film, and I said we didn’t have subtitles for the film. She told me that she had someone who could translate directly. And she watched the movie in the office with the live interpreter. When the movie ended, she said, “I want to cancel all of my dates. I want to choose this film for the contest”. At the time, I said, “Oh, this movie can really connect with people outside of Iran.”
The first thing that convinced me to start working The split is a memory my brother told me about. I have a grandfather with whom I spent most of my childhood. I saw him less often when I moved to Tehran, and my brother took care of him after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. My brother told me that once he wanted to take my grandfather to the bathroom and wanted to take his clothes off but my grandfather wouldn’t let him, so he had to let him in with his clothes. That image annoyed me so much that I put my head on his shoulder and I started to cry. This image is the beginning of a separation.
Let’s talk about A hero. What inspired it?
The idea for this story was in my head when I was a theater student. After that, I kept seeing very similar stories on the news, and it really intrigued me.
What about the social media you put in the movie?
In Iran, especially with the new generation, using this technology is just part of their life. They spend a lot of their day on social media. It seems to me that the characteristics and characteristics that social networks have outside of Iran are the same as inside Iran. I did not write this script to talk about social networks or criticize social networks. But the story is about a common man who became very popular in the area. Of course, these days social media plays a huge role in situations like these.
You’ve got 10 months of rehearsal, which I’ve never heard of before for a movie…
The plan was that the rehearsal lasted only two months. Because of COVID, we had to postpone, and we had to continue with the rehearsal and the duration was 10 months. I want to keep the crew together, so I’ll ask them to come over for rehearsals. The most important part of my work is really the rehearsals. And this doesn’t just work with actors. The rehearsal time helped me as a director a lot. I started to understand actors and I found out what they were good at. During filming, there wasn’t much time to make mistakes and correct them. During the rehearsal, I don’t work on the script. We create the world before the movie starts and we practice it. For example, in this movie, we have a character named Rahim and a character named Bahram, and the main conflict of the movie is between these two characters. I always wanted the fight between these two to feel like they didn’t want to fight but they had to, they had no choice. So we started creating a background story for them and we rehearsed it. I told the actors that these two characters were friends from a very young age, and then Bahram married a woman, and he said to Rahim, “My wife has a sister, you Do you want to meet her?” And then that also made them get married, and they became two happy families. But after a while, after Rahim separated from his wife, Bahram was difficult to swallow. Feeling as if you are losing someone. And that makes you angry. And we started practicing all of that again. Fall in love, get married, break up, it’s all the same. None of that is in the movie, but you can see its impact on the actors.
What do you wish more Americans knew about Iran? And how do you wish more Iranians knew about America?
Based on my experience of traveling to the US here, I think emotionally, Americans and Iranians are very similar. This may sound strange to people, but it’s true. And I really hope that one day the distance between these two will disappear and they will start to really understand each other. A lot of damage has been done because of this separation. There is an established image for Iranians of Americans and, conversely, for Americans of Iranians. If they meet, I think a lot of things will be resolved.
The edited interview is long and clear.