The Academy Award-winning writer-director of "A Separation," Asghar Farhadi, dropped by Zurich over the weekend to take part in the first Master Class of the city's eighth annual film festival. (Upcoming participants include "Ocean's Eleven" producer Jerry Weintraub, "Cloud Atlas" co-writer-co-director Tom Tykwer and "The Green Mile" writer-director Frank Darabont.)
One of the few celebrated Iranian filmmakers not to be punished by his government for his art, Farhadi is best known for his 2009 Silver Bear winner "About Elly" and last year's arthouse hit "A Separation." In the Master Class, the writer-director talked about his inspirations, his filmmaking mantra and what "A Separation" is really about. Below are the top eight insights gleaned from the event.
Which Filmmakers Got Him Into Filmmaking
Farhadi cited “Bicycle Thieves” as the first major influence on his career. After first discovering Vittorio de Sica’s 1948 classic, Farhadi brushed up on his film history by watching the films of Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni, Ingmar Bergman and Krzysztof Kieslowski.
“L’avventura” Did Not Inspire “About Elly”
Despite their similarities (both films center on the case of a woman who goes missing during a holiday), Farhadi revealed that he has in fact never seen Antonioni’s 1960 classic. He said during the talk that someone on set had one day made the comparison, surprising Farhadi. As a result, he didn’t watch “L’avventura" during production, for fear that it would affect his own work.
Silence is Golden
Talking about a pivotal but very quiet scene in “About Elly,” Farhadi stressed the importance of following up loud moments in a film with quiet ones, to give the audience the chance to reflect on what had transpired before.
Why He’s Not One to Improvise
Farhadi revealed that he’s not one to make alterations to his script once shooting commences. Comparing the process of making a film to conducting an orchestra, Farhadi said that once on set, “I just do. There’s no time to make it up on the spot.” To make sure his screenplays are airtight, he works on each one for long periods of time, “from morning to night.” “About Elly” took him a full eight months to complete.
Why the Opening of “A Separation” is the Most Important Scene of the Film
“At the beginning [of 'A Separation'] I want to pose a question,” Farhadi said of his Academy Award winner for best foreign-language film. “The whole film is an answer to that question. The judge asks the wife, ‘Why don’t you want to stay with your child?’ The movie gives you the answer.”
He Doesn’t Make Films to Show What Life is Like in Iran
“You can Google the issues in Iran,” Farhadi said. “Nobody can explain the situation in one movie. There are people from all walks of life in Iran. ‘A Separation’ is a limited view of a few people.” Recounting an incident whereupon he met a woman on the street in Havana who told him how much she related to the film, Farhadi stated, “We’re all similar, but the media says we’re different. Emotional love is the same.”
The Difference Between Modern and Classic Tragedy
“Classic tragedy is the fight between good and bad,” Farhadi said. Citing “A Separation” as an example, he followed that up by saying, “The modern tragedy is the fight between good and good. We don’t know who is right. Both sides want to understand each other, but the situation pushed them to fight.”
Why He Has Yet to Helm a Comedy
“My films are a reaction to my condition,” he said. “When my situation changes, my mood will change.”
The Zurich Film Festival runs through September 30.