Monday, January 23, 2017
Interview: Asghar Farhadi
Like many great writer-directors, Asghar Farhadi has spent most of his career ringing variations on a theme: In a classic Farhadi setup, fissures within a family or other intimate group are thrown into relief when a trauma or a primal conflict brings out previously hidden aspects of the main characters. Thanks to their fine-grained realism and the intimacy of their settings, his films convey a lot of information about life in contemporary Iran, particularly among Tehran's educated and artistic elite.
The filmmaker also has a good ear for the way men and women communicate, and a sharp eye for the politics of gender. His latest--and this year's Foreign Language Film Oscar winner--is The Salesman, which is set in the world of theater in which Farhadi started out. Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) and Emad (Shahab Hosseini), a youngish married couple, are starring in their theater group's production of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman when a violent sexual attack shakes Rana's world, propelling the normally sensitive and supportive Emad into a state of macho rigidity.
Farhadi met with me in the Manhattan office of The Salesman's U.S. distributor, Cohen Media Group, to talk about his latest work, how the ambiguity of his films is both an advantage and a disadvantage when dealing with Iran's infamous censors, and why he would rather make films in Iran than anywhere else in the world, despite the difficulties.
Your films provide a humanistic window into life in Iran, partly because the characters are so easy to relate to and partly because of their sheer artfulness and moral complexity. Do you think they help counteract the dominant narrative in countries like ours, that tend to portray Iran as a scary, dangerous place full of religious and political extremists?
When I make my films, I'm not consciously thinking that I want to show a correct image of my people to the world, but automatically this happens, and this satisfies me. The situations that characters are put into in these films are situations that could happen anywhere in the world. The look that I have onto the characters is a look of empathy—even the characters who are at fault. Perhaps this is something that people around the world like, when you can put yourself into the shoes of others. This is the most important thing to me. When I was working in theater as well, when I was writing plays, I was also seeking ways that the audience could empathize with the characters.
Read the rest in Slant Magazine