Photo Credit: Habib Madjidi / Pictures Classics
His new feature “The Salesman” has been nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language film, but you won’t see Asghar Farhadi at this year’s Academy Awards ceremony February 26th. Shortly after the new administration issued an executive order temporarily prohibiting citizens of seven predominantly Muslim nations from entering the US, the Iranian director issued his own decree: he will steer clear of the Oscars as a protest of the travel ban, even if he receives an artistic waiver. “For years,” the 44-year-old director wrote, “on both sides of the ocean, groups of hard-liners have tried to present to their people unrealistic and fearful images of various nations and cultures in order to turn their differences into disagreements, their disagreements into enmities and their enmities into fears. Instilling fear in the people is an important tool used to justify extremist and fanatic behavior by narrow-minded individuals.”
Farhadi’s films key in on fear, as well: how a crisis, or turning point, forces us to examine what we’re truly made of. As Jeffrey Fleishman wrote in the LA Times, “his characters stand unadorned, flawed and imperfect, struggling for, but not always finding redemption. Much like ourselves. Not having him at the Academy Awards will diminish the ceremony.”
The must-read film blog IndieWire went further, declaring that “The Salesman” deserves to win the Oscar as it is not only one of the strongest, but also the “most relevant” of the five films nominated in this category. (Farhadi already has an Oscar on his mantle for his searing 2011 domestic drama, “A Separation.”)
The controversy isn’t hurting “The Salesman” at the box office. It opened to strong numbers last weekend in New York and LA, the best initial limited subtitled release in years. In West LA, I tried to catch it for the second time at the Royal, but even on a Tuesday night the theater was packed. Our choice: seats in the first or second row. We’ll catch it another time. For fans of Hitchcock, it’s a must. (Hitchcock turns out to be an important beacon for Farhadi, too.)
Given that Farhadi will remain in Iran for the rest of the movie awards mayhem, I consider myself lucky to have landed an interview with the trim, elegantly casual director when he alighted briefly in Los Angeles last month to promote the movie. Below, a link to an extended version of the conversation that aired last Saturday on KUSC’s Arts Alive.
“The Salesman” tells the story of a charismatic, well-liked young high school teacher and his wife, both actors in community theater, who are forced to leave their crumbling apartment in Tehran. In a makeshift new place, a crime is committed when Rana (played by Taraneh Alidoosti) casually leaves open the front door for her husband Emad (Shahab Hosseini). He becomes an amateur sleuth, and the ground beneath his (and the audience’s) feet keeps shifting. What does it take to make a tough ethical decision at a time of moral uncertainty? In an Asghar Farhadi film, as in life, there are no easy answers.