Magazine article Filmmaker

Conflict of Interest

Magazine article Filmmaker

Conflict of Interest

Article excerpt

Already receiving acclaim at festivals all over the world, including at this year's Berlinale where it won the Golden Bear, Asghar Farhadi's A SEPARATION is a moving tale about politics, family, religion and class.

"A Separation?" said the Persian cabbie who graciously ferried me to interview director Asghar Farhadi at a sleek hotel. "Why, I already have a ticket." News of this finely wrought drama has spread like wildfire since its premiere this year at the Berlinale, where it handily scooped up Silver Bear awards for Best Actor and Best Actress as well as the festival's highest honor, the Golden Bear (it is the first Iranian film to win the award). Following festival berths from New York to Fajr, Karlovy Vary to St. Petersburg, Helsinki to Hong Kong, and Toronto to Telluride, the film will open stateside, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics, on December 30.

It's thrilling that A Separation is finding an international audience and enjoying mainstream sunlight. The plot is as complex as a delicate tapestry, woven with strands of mundane and significant detail. When a middle-class couple can't agree on whether to flee Iran - Naader (Peyman Moaadi) wants to stay with his ailing father, while Simin (Leila Hatami) seeks greater opportunity - divorce and custody of their teenage daughter, Termeh, played by the director's real daughter, Sarina Farhadi, hang in the balance. Nader turns to a devout caretaker (Sareh Bayat) for help in the home...until circumstances suddenly take a turn for the worse - and for the litigious. The local justice system, the neighbors, and a tangle of assumptions and prejudices are soon brought into the fray.

Filmed on location from an inspired script by Farhadi, A Separation is that rare narrative feature film in which no tricks are pulled, no bells rung and no whistles blown. There's no CGI, no aliens and no hardcore sex or violence. It's simply a spare, incisive, contemporary portrait of politics, religion, family, age, gender and class in which the words and the performances stand on their own. Ah, this is what craftsmanship in the cinema can yield! At least one cabbie has a treat in store.

How did you become interested in filmmaking? In the old days, in the town where I was born, there was a theater you could enter even after a film had already begun. Once, I arrived in the middle of an Eastern European war movie. It was a story about a boy during wartime; the lead actor was only 10 or 12 years old and I saw myself in him. He was weak; a small, scrawny guy. But in a very difficult, complex situation, he showed bravery and changed the events of his own life. As I came out of the theater, I thought, "How would I have started his story?" and I made up the unseen part of the film. I think that was the moment when I began to be a filmmaker.

What brought you to your new film, A Separation? I was in Berlin, under contract on another film. I was supposed to write the script in Berlin and do the production there too. But while I was writing that film, the idea for this film came to me. I cancelled all my obligations, left the project and the city, and went back to Tehran where I first wrote and then produced A Separation. From the writing to the end of post-production, the film took 10 months. My other films have taken longer; at the moment I'm working on a script for a film that I plan to shoot in Paris, in French. I often start writing a script 10 months before production. But on this film, it seemed like most of the images were in me from the beginning. For example, the father who has Alzheimer's was part of my personal life. When my grandfather had the disease, he turned into a little kid. And another example: the relationship between the father and the daughter in the film is basically my relationship with my daughter. Termeh (Sarina Farhadi), the daughter in the film, is my own daughter. She helped me to construct that relationship.

The film's dialogue feels incredibly spontaneous. …

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