Asghar Farhadi on how COVID left a mark on his Oscar contender, a hero

A version of this story about Asghar Farhadi and “A Hero” first appeared in the International problem from awards magazine TheWrap.

Iran has won two awards in the last decade in the category of Best International Feature Film at the Oscars, both of which were awarded by director Asghar Farhadi: “A Separation” in 2011 and “The Salesman” in 2016. So it’s no surprise that the country has presented the new Farhadi film. drama, “A Hero”, on the run this year.

The film, which premiered in Cannes and was picked up by Amazon, is about a man who has been sent to prison for an unpaid bill. He finds a bag of gold coins in Farhadi’s low-key drama, but a subsequent act of altruism only complicates matters. As is usual in the director, the simple story hides a complex work of morality. Farhadi sat down with TheWrap to discuss the new project.

After filming “Everybody Knows” in Spain, you have returned to Iran for “A Hero”. Was it a deliberate choice?
Yes. He was completely sure that he would go from that movie to return to Iran. I like to make my films more in Iran, to be honest. I was born there and I feel like I have more control and understanding of the situation. When I work outside of Iran, I see it as an experiment.

Have you had this story in mind for a long time?
I had the concept years ago. But two or three years ago, I started thinking about making the movie, right after “Everybody Knows” came out. And because of the pandemic, writing and making it took a long time. We went into pre-production a couple of times but we stopped it.

And maybe that helped, because it gave us more time to rehearse and write. But during production, the pandemic was very dangerous and I was very stressed by what was going to happen with the team. And when the movie ended and I was looking at the backgrounds, everyone was wearing masks. We erased 350 people with background masks. In the film there is no longer a trace of corona.

And you shot scenes in crowded markets and public places.
I thought it would be impossible to do, really. But we had such a good team that they made it possible. We were all in a hotel and we weren’t in contact with anyone outside, and on set we were also very cautious.

Did the story change much during the writing and essay period?
In rehearsal it didn’t change that much, but while we were working on it, the story changed over and over again. It was a very simple story. It was not like “A Separation” or “The Salesman”, which have a very high tension. And with such a simple story, I had to work on it to make the drama bolder.

Also, it is a simple story, but it gets more complex as it goes on, as we learn more and more. And what also makes it very difficult is that there is a rule that this type of film making must be realism, but I wanted this to be exactly like life, which is more difficult than realism.

Asghar Farhadi (photographed by Shayan Asgharnia for TheWrap)

What are the biggest challenges when trying to make a movie exactly like life?
The biggest challenge is that you put yourself in a situation that you call the rule of life. Which means you have to do a lot, but it shouldn’t show. Everything should be invisible. You should not feel that the dialogue is written, you should feel that the actors are improvising the lines. And the construction of the film, the structure, should be very hidden. It is very hard. If you want to make a movie that is not like real life, it is easy to do. It’s the main character of the movie that really reveals to you what kind of movie it is. When the character is very simple, his narrative must also be simple. But at the same time, I didn’t want the narrative to be lean, I wanted it to be layered.

Was social media a prominent part of the initial idea, as it is in the finished film?
When I started writing, I didn’t think that social media would be one of the themes of the movie. It was the story of this kind that would do a good deed and become known in the region in which he lived, and then problems would arise and consequences would ensue. But these days, even if someone is known in a very small area, social media plays a huge role. And that’s how social media got into this. But I didn’t want to make social media the main theme of the movie, because the movie doesn’t have enough time to really open up such a complex topic.

And the other problem was, I didn’t want to show social media directly in the movie. I wanted to be in the corner somewhere in the movie, and we only see the reflection.

He usually rehearsals for a long time.

A hero

Was the rehearsal for this movie longer than usual?
On this movie, I had more rehearsals than any other movie. We were thinking of doing a two-month trial, but due to the pandemic we were delayed and it turned out to be 10 months. But in rehearsal we weren’t working on the script itself. We mainly work on the backstories of the characters. We rehearsed everything that had happened before the movie started. And when we got to shoot the movie, the actors already knew all about its background.

So the actors collaborated on the backstories?
Yes. Maybe one of the reasons they were so eager to be in this movie was the rehearsal part, because it was exciting and fresh for them. They were very collaborative. If you opened the door and came to the place where we were rehearsing, you would think we were doing a play. No one had a paper in hand. Sometimes he would say to the actors, “Okay, now you are Bahram and you are Rahim.” That way they would understand each other.

Does it get to the point where everyone thinks, “Okay, we’re done now”?
(Laughs) You never think that. When we finished rehearsal and were ready to go to town to shoot the movie, some of the actors asked me, “Are you sure you’re ready?”

As a child, I love the process of rehearsing. When I rehearse, I no longer follow time. My joy in filmmaking is not after the movie ends and people see it. When there are 40 or 50 people around me and they are trying to make something happen correctly, that is the greatest happiness I get in my life.

Read more about the international edition here..

Hand of God Wrap Magazine Cover
Photograph by Jeff Vespa for TheWrap

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