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Beyond borders

Iranian director Asghar Farhadi   | Photo Credit: AP

That Asghar Farhadi won the Best Foreign Language Film award at the Oscars for The Salesman was no surprise. In fact, it had been expected after he decided to boycott the award ceremony in protest against the U.S. President’s executive order banning the entry of people into the U.S. from seven countries, including Iran, the celebrated filmmaker’s country. Farhadi had said in an interview that he would not attend even if he could.

In his acceptance speech, which was delivered by Anousheh Ansari, Iran’s first woman in space, Farhadi said: “Dividing the world into the ‘us’ and ‘our enemies’ categories creates fear. A deceitful justification for aggression and war... Filmmakers can turn their cameras to capture shared human qualities and break stereotypes of various nationalities and religions. They create empathy between us and others. An empathy which we need today more than ever.” It is this very empathy that has been the hallmark of all of Farhadi’s works. Unmistakable in The Salesman, much like in his other films, is also Farhadi’s characteristic complex, subtle and layered moral web and air of suspense, all within the folds of family and domesticity.

A couple moves into a flat whose previous occupant was allegedly a prostitute. Things come to a head when a stranger unleashes violence against the woman and cracks start developing in the marriage. As the need for taking revenge starts overpowering the man, we are left wondering who is right and who is wrong. Can the victim turn into a criminal, and vice versa? The story takes place against the backdrop of rehearsals for a performance of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman.

Farhadi’s dissent is not surprising given that he is a product of new wave Iranian cinema, which is known for its unique, at times disguised, narratives that often involve children speaking about contentious issues besetting the country. This is why Iranian cinema has for long prospered despite governmental controls and strict censorship laws. Cinema became the window into Iran for the rest of the world after the 1979 revolution. Abbas Kiarostami, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Majid Majidi, Dariush Mehrjui, Jafar Panahi, all influenced by neorealism and European art-house cinema, have been its most acclaimed practitioners.

Unlike an exiled Makhmalbaf, or Jafar Panahi who is under house arrest in Iran, Farhadi functions in freedom save a small period of ban imposed on him for his support for Makhmalbaf and Panahi. Ever since he came into the spotlight with About Elly, he has been feted for providing the viewers a ringside view of modern-day Iran, about class and gender differences, dysfunctional families, messy relationships and marriages on the verge of breakdown. At the same time, there is universal appeal in the moral dilemmas of his characters.

The Salesman was produced by Memento Films Production and Asghar Farhadi Production in co-production with Arte France Cinéma. It shows, like all of Farhadi’s films, that cinema has to rise above national boundaries and bans that are imposed by the likes of Mr. Trump.


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Printable version | Oct 23, 2021 7:30:26 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/beyond-borders/article17378289.ece

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