At the 65th Cannes Festival, Iranian film director Asghar Farhadi was, once again, the centre of attention, this time for his next film project. The European Commission has selected Farhadi’s next movie for its 60,000 euro ‘Prix MEDIA’ award. The film is due to be set in Paris with European casting.
Earlier this year, Farhadi’s ‘Separation’ won two Oscar nominations and took the award for Best Foreign Language film, the first Iranian movie to win the honour.
In an interview with euronews in Cannes, Asghar Farhadi talks about his next project, the reaction in Iran, his cinematic style and the current restraints on Iranian film-makers.
euronews: “You’ve just won the “Prix MEDIA” a European award which recognises cultural diversity, what does this award mean for you as an Iranian Film maker?”
Asghar Farhadi: “The meaning it has for me is the same as all the encouragement I have received through these years. The other meaning is that I’m a writer who has always composed in the Persian language and whose dialogues have always been in the Persian language. Now some of the cast will be speaking another language. Finally, it means that those who have read the script for my next film have been able to connect with it and did not find it an unfamiliar story despite not knowing Persian, and that means a lot to me.”
euronews: “You won many international awards for your last movie ‘A Separation’ amongst them an Oscar for best foreign language movie – but apparently when you returned to Iran, the official welcome dinner organised by the State of Iran was cancelled; what happened?”
Asghar Farhadi: “My cinema friends and colleagues were going to hold a ceremony, a very sincere and simple ceremony. Well, they faced problems and they could not hold it properly and they were still trying to hold the ceremony one way or another. I did not want them to have more problems and I asked them not to continue. The ceremony was not going to be held by the House of Cinema, (House of Cinema is Iran’s biggest syndicate for cinema actors/actresses/film-makers but was closed earlier this year by the authorities), but by friends who were mostly members of the House of Cinema.
“What they were doing meant a lot to me although they could not do it the way they wanted to. I could never find out why the ceremony was cancelled. However, despite everything, it was very valuable for me. All this time, I have got so much support from the people of my country and I have been blessed with their kindness and this support is a great asset for me and very valuable.”
euronews: “In your movies you have a certain style which reminds me of Chekhov, Ibsen and Kieslowski – certainly in your last movie ‘A Separation’ you have a style I would call neo-realistic; what for you is the task of this realistic style?”
Asghar Farhadi: “It might have been the books I read when I was a teenager. The stories I read at that time were very close to reality; not just a mere portrayal of reality but a selection of a layer of reality which, within itself, contained much more complicated layers of reality. Reading those stories as a younger adult has unconsciously created a certain taste which showed itself when I started writing movie scripts and plays.”
euronews: “An artist - and I consider you as a filmmaker and screenwriter as an artist - you must have a certain freedom of artistic expression. Where is the borderline for you between artistic expression and freedom, and state censorship?”
Asghar Farhadi: “For someone like me and of my generation who was born and has grown up with these restrictions be they at home, at school, on the street, or at university; sometimes this borderline between being restricted and not being restricted is blurred. Not in the same sense that I sometimes hear: ‘Restrictions lead to creativity’. This is wrong to say. Perhaps in the short run, restrictions can bring about creativity but, in the long term, it destroys it. Therefore, if there were no restrictions for Iranian film-makers, we would have seen more creativity from them.”
euronews: “There are a lot of Iranian film directors who cannot work the way they wish in Iran. Some Western journalists call this a problem of censorship. How would you explain the problem?
Asghar Farhadi: “The problem is not a very clear and transparent problem that I can define for you. Perhaps if we summarise it in one word, it is the same as you say, censorship and restriction. This is not just from the system, not just from the authority and the ruling system.
“Some of this censorship is within the artist or the film-maker without them being aware of it, and this is more dangerous, because if there are restrictions on the outside, you can see them, you can get it, you can recognise it, experience it and find a way for going through it.
“But when it is within your own mind, you will not be able to find it. It is like someone who is ill but does not know about his illness and feels that he is healthy. This is dangerous.”
euronews: “The House of Cinema, an important body supporting artists and filmmakers in Iran was closed a few month ago – it shocked a lot of filmmakers, actors and actresses – how do you feel about this?”
Asghar Farhadi: “I have some good news. I learnt that through their efforts, all those who were active in and all the members of House of Cinema, have managed to get it re-opened soon. I am not sure yet, I have heard this as news.
“My feeling when the House of Cinema was closed was a very bad feeling. Neither I nor any other of my colleagues could find out why such an establishment should be shut.
“Reasons were given but none of them were acceptable to me. I thought those were not the real reasons and something else has made them close the House of Cinema. But I am happy that finally, due to the efforts of the cinema people, this incident was not forgotten, unlike many other events that are forgotten in the course of time.”