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Asghar Farhadi, writer and director of the Iranian Oscar submission A Hero, spoke with guest moderator and The Father screenwriter Florian Zeller about his new work and the filmmaking process for THR Presents, powered by Vision Media.
In A Hero, a jailed man, Rahim (played by Amir Jadidi) is given two days’ parole to convince his creditor to withdraw complaint of payment in order to ease his debt and repair his reputation. Like much of Farhadi’s previous work, the movie poses questions without clear answers, as Zeller was quick to admire, pointing out this celebration of ambiguity has become something of Farhadi’s signature.
“If you give all the information to [the audience], you put them in a passive position,” Farhadi explains, noting he prefers “the film [that] gives me the space to be active. Like a detective person who is watching this story.” Faced with the observation from certain viewers that his films seem to say “don’t make a judgment about anything,” he offers: “It’s the opposite of this. I invite my audience to make judgments about everything.”
The idea for the film had been percolating in Farhadi’s mind for years, since as a student he’d seen the Bertolt Brecht play Life of Galileo, which, in two lines, ponders the definition of what a hero can be. At that time, the question floating through his mind was “Why [are] most of our heroes dead? When people pass away, they transfer to be a hero. And I understood, because when they go, when they pass away, when they are dead, they are very far from us.”
As an audience member watching his own film, that central query shifts in focus: “I say: Do we need any hero? And is it a real thing? Or is it fantasy, because sometimes I think of ‘hero,’ as a model which encourages us to follow, is not realistic.”
Both Zeller and Farhadi come from a theater background, having worked as stage directors prior to their successful film careers. So, when production of A Hero was delayed 10 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Farhadi was brought back to his theatrical roots, having an unusually extended period of time he could rewrite and rehearse with his actors. “When I say rehearsals, it was not sitting around the table and talking about the script and reading the script,” Farhadi notes. “No, it was, most of the time, we try to make a backstory for these characters. Writing small scenes for characters which [are] not in the film.”
The script underwent multiple iterations during this prolonged delay in production — Farhadi wrote mostly in the mornings, working with actors in the afternoon. “One of my actors had an interview,” Farhadi recounts, “and he said ‘Farhadi sent me the 43rd version of his script, nice surprise.’ And I saw, yeah, he’s right. I rewrote 43 or 44 times and all these details came into my mind in [the] rewriting process.”
“The process of writing is very joyful for me,” Farhadi muses when asked his favorite part of the filmmaking process. “Because I’m alone there. Nobody can say anything to me. I’m alone in my office.” The most difficult part: “The worst period is when I’ve finished the film, and I watch [the film] for the first time on the screen…I’m thinking about technical things, about sound, about color, about everything. And the hardest period is promotion, when you should explain your film, which is very hard.”
This edition of THR Presents is presented by Amazon Studios.
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