Understanding Asghar Farhadi
An Iranian Canadian critic engages with Farhadi’s films and her own roots.
By Ehsan Khoshbakht, Keyframe, Fandor
August 19, 2015
Asghar Farhadi: Life and Cinema (The Critical Press, 2014) is the first English book about the great director Asghar Farhadi, written by critic Tina Hassannia. More than a critical study, it is a dialogue of another kind, in which the Iranian Canadian author, by means of Farhadi’s films, engages with her own cultural roots.
The approach of the book is quite simple, yet effective: summing up the current critical reading and reception of each film in the West (and to a certain extent in Iran), supplemented by a lengthy interview with the filmmaker. (At almost at the same time, two Persian books were published about Farhadi: all his filmed screenplays are available in a single volume, Seven Screenplays by Asghar Farhadi; plus Face to Face with Asghar Farhadi.)
This video interview follows the structure of the book. Hassannia identifies those factors that make Farhadi an important figure in contemporary cinema before providing a brief film-by-film survey of his career, encouraging those viewers who haven’t seen his pre-About Elly films to go and seek out the early treasures.
From his earliest films to the recently acclaimed The Past, Farhadi has followed two existing traditions within Iranian cinema: the socially conscious realist family melodramas of the 1990s, and the gritty street films of the 1970s. While this gives his work a sense of familiarity for Iranian audiences, Farhadi nevertheless stands out for his breathtakingly rigorous cinematic style. Outside of Iran, where these cinematic traditions are little known, Farhadi’s work appears even more audacious and captivating.
Farhadi gained widespread attention in his home country with the release of Fireworks Wednesday, but his international breakthrough came with A Separation. The latter also marked a shift in the way his audiences inside and outside Iran entered into dialogue. The Iranians, who had been generally apathetic to westerners’ regard for Abbas Kiarostami, suddenly started monitoring, through an almost systematic process of news updates and translations, all that was said and written about Farhadi abroad.
On the night of the Oscars in 2012, documented in From Iran, A Separation (Kourosh Ataee, Azadeh Moussavi, 2013), millions of eyes in Iran were locked on TVs connected to illegal satellites, broadcasting the ceremony live, as if they were watching a national sporting match. Farhadi, as if aware of his sudden stature, turned the occasion into an opportunity for international conciliation in his acceptance speech. Since the live broadcast of the presidential election debates in Iran in 2009, this was the first collective viewing experience for the nation, a ceremony which was perceived as a dialogue between Iran and the U.S..
Farhadi’s next film, scheduled for release in 2016, is currently in production in Iran and another project has been announced which will be produced by Pedro Almodóvar.