In Two Minutes: Asghar Farhadi

Want to catch up on world cinema? We give you a quick lesson on some of the most relevant filmmaking voices of our times and why you need to know them. This week it’s Oscar-winning Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, best known for films like The Salesman and A Separation

Sucheta Chakraborty
Sucheta Chakraborty

February 16, 2017

In Two Minutes: Asghar Farhadi

Name: Asghar Farhadi

Place of birth: Isfahan, Iran

Films include: The Salesman, The Past, A Separation, About Elly, Fireworks Wednesday, Beautiful City, Dancing in the Dust.

Accolades: The Academy Award and the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film for A Separation in 2012, Best Screenplay at Cannes for The Salesman in 2016, the Silver Bear for Best Director for About Elly in 2009, among many others.

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Contemporaries: Fellow filmmakers of the so-called third generation of the Iranian new wave like Rafi Pitts, Mohammad Rasoulof, Marziyeh Meshkini, Maziar Miri, Bahman Ghobadi and Samira Makhmalbaf.

His films are about...: While early new wave cinema explored nature and the outdoors, most of Farhadi’s films are domestic dramas where the home becomes the focus and the source of conflict. Literal metaphors such as the collapse of the apartment building at the start of The Salesman, the chaotic flat in Fireworks Wednesday or the theme of redecoration in The Past point to deeper problems lurking within. There is also often a return to a single decisive incident over and over again to unpack its hidden layers. Each attempt unveils a little more of the truth and as mysteries unfold, they expose the cracks in and the fragility of relationships.      

The Salesman has been nominated for an Academy Award for best foreign-language movie. However, Farhadi has said he won’t attend the ceremony owing to the controversy around President Trump’s visa ban for citizens from Iran  

Style: These are intricately structured narratives which employ an unassuming camera that gently observes.

Genre: Farhadi frequently works with a highly sophisticated form of the melodrama. There is also a strain of social realism where comments on society are subtly made through an artful mingling of fiction and documentary modes. According to Guardian critic Peter Bradshaw, Farhadi’s latest – The Salesman – belongs to a newly emerging genre in world cinema – ‘the Haneke/Antonioni Shock Event’, where a single traumatic event completely rattles the lives of ordinary unsuspecting people. 

Farhadi’s films portray the crucial clash between tradition and modernity in contemporary Iran.

Frequently associates with: Taraneh Alidoosti who has appeared in films like The Salesman, About Elly, Fireworks Wednesday and Beautiful City. Shahab Hosseini, who won Best Actor at Cannes for his role in The Salesman, is also a Farhadi regular.

Why you should know him: Farhadi’s films portray the crucial clash between tradition and modernity in contemporary Iran. They challenge sexual inequalities, examine the dynamics of adult relationships and marriage and explore issues of honour and shame, class and morality with great insight and sensitivity.    

The first film you should see: A Separation – for its desperately intense characters, for the moment where Nader refuses to disrobe his ailing father before the prosecutor to produce evidence against Razieh, for the look that Termeh and Somayeh exchange while their parents bicker in the background. And for never allowing you the easy satisfaction of picking sides.

Fun fact: The sensitive young Termeh, the only child of the divorcing couple in A Separation, is played by Farhadi’s own daughter Sarina.