If there’s one thing Asghar Farhadi loves, it’s a moral dilemma. The Iranian filmmaker is known for forcing his characters to make difficult choices, and his latest film, Iran’s 2022 Best International Feature Oscar submission “A Hero,” is no exception. The film follows a man serving jail time for unpaid debts who happens to find a bag full of money that has the potential to change his life. Farhadi recently sat down with “Mad Max: Fury Road” director George Miller for an Academy conversation (courtesy of Amazon) about the way the film touches on some of his longstanding fascinations. Watch the video interview, exclusive to IndieWire, above.
“In all my films, the drama comes from making very small mistakes,” the “A Separation” director said. “Very specific mistakes. Which is the core of the story for me.”
Like many of his strongest films, “A Hero” pairs sweeping moral questions with the intricacies of contemporary life and the Iranian legal system. Forcing people to weigh their ideals against the harsh realities of an imperfect world is one of his specialties. And while his characters often face consequences for the choices they make, Farhadi thinks everyone should cut them some slack. He told Miller that he sees our society as being increasingly unforgiving, a troubling trend that inspired him to make “A Hero.”
“When a person becomes a kind of hero in society, people think he shouldn’t make any mistakes,” Farhadi said. “They think he shouldn’t do any wrong things, he doesn’t have the right to do any mistakes in his past life or in his or her future life. It is very important for me, because I believe life without making any mistakes is horrible. We cannot do it! But these days when people know someone, a famous person, they say, ‘You cannot do anything. You can’t make any small mistakes.'”
Farhadi’s realistic portrayals of small mistakes are often so powerful because of the nuanced performances he gets out of actors. The director credits his theater background, and the long COVID-induced rehearsal process, for the performances in “A Hero.”
“We tried, with actors, we tried to make backstories for each character and their relationships. It took a long time. We planned to have two months of rehearsals, but because of COVID we pushed back the production. We had nine or 10 months of rehearsals,” he said. “My DP was sometimes there, my costume designer was always there. So we had these rehearsals, but not with the whole cast. Today I work with this actor, tomorrow another one. So we had a plan for our rehearsals, which was very useful. In the first weeks, I always try to understand, ‘Who is my actor? What’s his personality?’ I try to take from that person and use his abilities for this role.”
While Farhadi complained that realism sometimes bores him, he plans to continue using this meticulous rehearsal process to tell realistic stories that still manage to captivate audiences. “My wish,” he said, “is that one day I will make a film where people will go into theaters and completely forget it’s a film. They will feel, ‘This is a life.’”
“A Hero” is now playing in select theaters and available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.