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Thursday
Dec192013

Interview: Asghar Farhadi on Globe Nominee "The Past"

Amir and Asghar Farhadi @ TIFFAmir here, to share with you my fantastic experience of interviewing the director of The Past, A Separation and About Elly. About a decade ago, when Asghar Farhadi made his first feature film after years of successful theatre and TV work, even the most optimistic fan of Iranian cinema could not imagine his stratospheric rise to International Auteur status in such a short span of time. It is heart-warming for an industry that has only gained international prominence in the past two decades to see one of its sons holding an Oscar statue. Farhadi’s popularity comes at a critical point for Iranian cinema, when festival presence is not as regular as it was in the nineties and several major filmmakers have had their careers stalled for political reasons.*

Farhadi's follow up to the Academy Award-winning classic A Separation, The Past will be representing Iran in the Best Foreign Film Oscar competition and was just nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film. Farhadi's latest is a Paris-set melodrama starring two recognizable stars in The Artist's Berenice Bejo (Cannes Winner Best Actress) and Tahar Rahim as well as Iranian superstar Ali Mosaffa.** In the film, Bejo plays Marie, a French woman married to Ahmad (Mosaffa) who is in custody of their children after a breakup. When Ahmad receives a letter from his wife to return to Paris to finalize the divorce, he is confronted with Samir (Rahim), Marie’s new boyfriend, himself married with a son to a woman in a coma. And that’s just the beginning of the complications in this romantic triangle.

Thematically and structurally, The Past isn’t an uncharted territory for a director who’s been building such intricate mazes since Fireworks Wednesday. The biggest difference is that Farhadi is working away from home for the first time, in a language that’s all new to him. This cultural and geographical distance seemed like a good place to start our interview, which I had the pleasure of conducting during the Toronto International Film Festival. When I brought up these differences, Farhadi insisted it was the similarities he’s more interested in.

“For human beings, comparison is a method of recognition and comparison is rooted in difference, so that’s what we naturally like to highlight. Lifestyles may vary around the world but emotional responses are all the same. I can’t imagine that someone falling in love in Japan feels differently than someone falling in love in the US. My stories are founded on these similarities.” 

Despite that, Farhadi was very specific about choosing France as the backdrop of his story. The Past hinges on the history of the central relationship and Farhadi smartly uses the city’s sense of history to reflect that.

“The story told me to make the film in France. If it was set in two different cities in Iran, the distance wouldn’t be felt as much. And I chose Paris of all cities because the film is about revisiting a history. I had to set