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‘A Hero’: Asghar Farhadi Talks to Mira Nair and Desiree Akhavan About Leaning Into Moral Ambiguity

Farhadi was joined by the fellow filmmakers for a conversation about how his films capture the greys in a society that operates in a moral binary on the surface.

A Hero

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Asghar Farhadi’s experience growing up in Iran was very black and white. Good was good, and bad was bad, with little room for the shades of grey that color the motives and actions of the characters in his films, including the 2021 Cannes Grand Prix winner “A Hero,” recently selected as Iran’s Oscar entry.

“There wasn’t anything in between these two spectra in my childhood,” Farhadi said. “When I grew up, I gradually understood that the world is not like this, and there’s no need to feel guilty for standing in a specific place because of what you feel. And this turned to be my biggest concern when I’m writing.”

Farhadi spoke with IndieWire’s Eric Kohn during a recent panel, which you can watch in the video above. They were joined by two filmmakers who say they were greatly impacted by Farhadi’s work: “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” director Desiree Akhavan and “Salaam Bombay!” Oscar nominee Mira Nair.

Akhavan was born and raised in New York to parents from Iran, and grew up speaking a version of Farsi she said was from another era. “The Iran i grew up in was within the confines of my walls,” she said. “I never really understood the context of the rules of my life until I saw ‘A Separation.’ … I understood something about where I came from, the world my parents are from, and about the truth — and our relationship to truth and survival. It really shifted the way I saw my family and the world of those walls that I grew up in. The characters in your films are my family members, they are my memories.”

Nair said her native country of India is one full of complex rules and customs, but also home to a range of humanity in all sorts of greys and colors. Farhadi, she said, is a kindred spirt in being able to capture the universality of such tension by so specifically and intimately focusing on the people of Iran.”

“Here is a companion, not just a companion, but a teacher — guru — a leader, somebody who I can look to, whose work I can look to for that extraordinariness of life,” she said. “In ‘A Separation,’ ‘The Salesman,’ and ‘A Hero’ — which I saw in his company in Telluride — I would say the common theme is that nothing is what it may seam. Who is a hero? And who creates heroes? And who pulls them down? That is our world.”

Production of “A Hero” was delayed for nine months amid the pandemic, and during that time Farhadi said he discovered even more dimensions of the moneylender, the would-be villain of the film.

Farhadi said there’s a universality to his own films, and those of Akhavan and Nair and other filmmakers he admires.

“There are two main emotions, a mix of these emotions, are the base of our work — hate and love,” he said. “These two are the same all around the world. Everybody has these two. They way they show it may be different in Japan or Iran or New York. … These two are the doughs we always play with and mix them and create something with them.”

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