Asghar Farhadi is a filmmaker and director. His latest film, The Salesman, is nominated for an Oscar in today’s Academy Awards. These are 10 things that you should know about him.
1. Farhadi’s movie, A Separation, won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2012
It is the first Iranian film to win. During his speech, Farhadi said this:
“At this time, many Iranians all over the world are watching us and I imagine them to be very happy. They are happy not just because of an important award or a film or filmmaker, but because at the time when talk of war, intimidation, and aggression is exchanged between politicians, the name of their country Iran is spoken here through her glorious culture, a rich and ancient culture that has been hidden under the heavy dust of politics. I proudly offer this award to the people of my country, a people who respect all cultures and civilizations and despise hostility and resentment.”
His speech was considered brave as it could have prevented him from returning to Iran or at least make his life uncomfortable there.
Farhadi has a film nominated this year, but the only other Iranian film to be nominated for Best Foreign Language Film was Majid Majidi’s Children of Heaven in 1998.
2. Farhadi’s focus is on showing his audience that we all have something in common
“I don’t want to become a political spokesman; that’s not what I do. I’m a filmmaker. But whenever possible, in my films if I can allow people to understand each other and for cultures to come together, I would do that.”
Farhadi did just this in his latest movie, The Past, which shows broken relationships in families – both between couples and parents and children.
3. Farhadi studied literature and theatre
“I was very much into novels and reading Iranian, especially Iranian stories. And that helped me look into the social fabric. And the second thing was that when I went to the university and I started to study theater and stage, I realised how important drama is. And the mix of the drama with this literature that was my background is what you can see is being created.”
Attending live theatre has been found to improve vocabulary, tolerance, and the ability to read the emotions of others. While studying literature teaches empathy, how to understand the world, and communication.
4. He believes emotional experiences are the best sources of inspiration for cinema
“We have an emotional bank inside of us, and that is very important. When you’re thinking and writing a film, you go inside yourself and take from those experiences to use for your film.”
5. He likes to watch films without knowing any information beforehand
“I think the best way [to watch movies] is watching them without any information. I don’t read anything about [the film I’m about to watch].”
Reviews can ruin your experience of a film. On one hand, reading a review can help you decide whether the film is worth seeing. Seeing a film costs you money and time, so you should make sure it’s worth spending both on, right? On the other hand, reviews can either make you miss out on seeing something that you would have gotten a lot out of it, or taint the way you view the movie. Seeing a movie without knowing anything about it or how it was critically received means you are in for an exciting and surprising experience, which is exactly how I experienced Spotlight and Map to the Stars.
6. Farhadi is an activist
In 2014, he posted a photo with human rights lawyer, Nasrin Sotudeh holding a banner that says, “Stop killing your fellow beings”. This was in protest of the war between Israel and Gaza.
He also spoke out against the execution of Reyhaneh Jabbari, who killed her alleged rapist in self-defence. Farhadi wrote an open letter to the victim’s family asking them to pardon her.
7. Penelope Cruz accepted a role Farhadi’s film without reading the script
Cruz didn’t read the script before accepting because she thinks Farhadi is an excellent director and was already interested in being in one of his films.
8. His movie, The Past, made Nicole Kidman cry
Nicole Kidman was on the Cannes Film Festival jury, and the film’s main actress, Bérénice Bejo, won the festival’s best actress prize.
Since Farhadi uses emotional experiences as his source, having an audience member react emotionally is the highest compliment. Emotional movies offer a relief from the real world. Having a good cry is a cathartic release and can make you feel quite euphoric afterwards. This is why I will purposely search for an emotional movie, or watch one I already know will make me cry, when I have too much stress or tension built up and I need that escape from reality and complete emotional involvement in someone else’s world.
9. Farhadi has to work with Iran’s censorship restrictions
- During the formative years of the Islamic Republic, cinema, like all other art forms, was severely restricted.
- The Islamic government started to support cinema when it realised that it could be used as a tool for propaganda.
- Anything that weakens or attacks the principles of Islam is banned from films.
- There are restrictions on the clothes worn in films, the music used, and the subject matter.
- Pro-government films are getting financial and logistical support, while independent and pro-reform filmmakers are being punished, even jailed.
- A film about Khomeini’s life finally screens at the Fajr Film Festival after three years of promises that it would be completed; Afkhami, the film’s original director, denies all involvement.
- Farhadi’s film wins accolades at Berlinale Film Festival; hardliners argue it should not be called an ‘Iranian film’ as it was produced outside of their control.
- House of Cinema members are accused of being ‘immoral’ by pro-government film director Farajollah Salahshor.
- The House of Cinema take Salahshor to court, their evidence is dismissed, and he is fined 2.36 GBP.
- Hardliners push for the gender segregation of cinema audiences, and succeed in one university.
From Cultural Censorship in Iran: Iranian Culture in a State of Emergency by Mostafa Khalaji, Bronwen Robertson, and Maryam Aghdami.
10. Farhadi’s film, The Salesman, is nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, however he has chosen not to attend
Last month, Farhadi released a statement to the New York Times saying that he would not attend the Academy Awards Ceremony in light of President Trump’s Muslim ban. Read the full statement here.
His statement ended with an optimistic belief and a hope for the current situation to change:
“I believe that the similarities among the human beings on this earth and its various lands, and among its cultures and its faiths, far outweigh their differences. […] [I hope] that the current situation will not give rise to further divide between nations.”
He has received support from The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science, the American Film Institute, and Taraneh Alidoosti, who is one of The Salesman’s stars and has also chosen not to attend the ceremony.
We all know that history has a habit of repeating itself, and yet we’re falling into the cycle of letting it. Certain groups and cultures have been picked on in the past, and will continue to be picked on the future. What can you do? Watch Iranian films.
You can support certain groups and situations by choosing which films you do and don’t see. Instead of watching Woody Allen’s latest, watch one of Farhadi’s films mentioned above or any other great Iranian film, like Close-up, Turtles Can Fly, and Ten.