Few films have been more universally received than A Separation, an Iranian drama from director Asghar Farhadi. The film won multiple prizes at this year’s Berlin Film Festival, and has gone to play to standing ovations at Telluride, Toronto, and here in New York on the festival scene. It will also contend for the Oscars as the official selection by the nation of Iran, surprisingly for a film that deals so bleakly with issues of class, religion, and gender that plague Iranian society. Perhaps though, no one can deny the power of Mr. Farhadi, who spoke about the reasons for making his film back when the film played the New York Film Festival.
On deciding to make the film and the entry point to the script.
When I started breaking the story I can’t point my finger to what it was or how it was that got constructed in my head…I was already working on another film [outside Iran] that I had planned for two years but one day, I really felt I wanted to go back to Iran and do a film there, and that feeling became stronger, and two days later I was back in Iran. The first image that came to my mind was a man who had Alzheimer’s disease and that image was stuck in my head that entire afternoon.
Working with his own daughter, who plays the daughter in the family
Before starting to write this script for the film, I was in a period of taking care of my daughter—taking her to school and bringing her back every day. We were in very close company with each other and would talk and discuss things, and I thought this could be represented in my films. When I was writing my story, my daughter kept coming back to my mind as the person who could be perfect for this role. I thought, perhaps, this could be ideal, and easy for us to do so, because we had that time period together. But as it turns out, it was a lot more difficult than I planned on. When I asked the other actors to do certain things, they usually accepted very fast. It was either they had seen my previous work, or out of respect since I was the director. It was a lot more difficult with my daughter. Whatever I asked her to do, she always had a why to ask. And it would drive me crazy! But the good thing that happened was that [Peyman Moaadi], who plays the father, was getting closer and closer to my daughter. They were bonding really well. And he had another job, so my daughter would spend time in his office, and they started getting closer together.
Improvisation on set
I identify myself more as a writer than as a filmmaker, so the process of writing a script is very important to me, and I usually put every detail in writing. Before starting to shoot, however, I allow some people to make changes during the rehearsal. But once we’re over the rehearsal and start to shoot, nothing really changes. Like an orchestra that has been rehearsing for months, you just have to look at the notes and follow.
On his work as an “auteur”
I try and write the scripts in a way that the author is not present; the author is hidden. I try and make the films in a way that there is no director behind it. If I hear some dialogue that is being produced by the actors that makes me happy. This is usual in Eastern art. In Eastern art, especially architecture, the creator of the art does not intrude between the art and the audience. For instance, when you go to the mosques, the first thing that comes to your mind is not who made these things. The shadow of the creator does not cast on the viewer.
On portrayals of gender and class
I personally don’t believe in the categorization between men and women, and I think it is a false categorization. The reason is when there are problems in a society, they are not divided into men’s problems and women’s problems; there are problems shared by both. If a woman in a society has a problem, I’m not excepted. That’s a problem for my daughter, and my mother, and my wife. So I don’t think the categorization between men and women is a true one and not separate.
These are two families and one looks closer to the modern world; it’s an urban middle class family and the other one is a more religious and traditional family. These two families represent two social classes in Iranian society: the middle class or upper-middle class, and the lower class of society. And there’s a war, which is a hidden war, going on between the two. Once you start looking there, the war becomes more and more familiar, but more dangerous, because it’s hidden.