President Donald Trump’s recent edict to ban travelers from seven Muslim countries, including Iran, has scotched plans by Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi’s to attend this year’s Academy Awards ceremony on February 26.
The Salesman — which he directed, wrote and produced — has been nominated for an Oscar for best foreign language film.
Though attempts were made by the Motion Picture Academy and other high-level Hollywood names to get him an exemption from the ban, Farhadi decided that under no circumstances would he attend because of what he called the “unjust conditions” of Trump’s executive order.
Trump’s announcement ironically coincided with the theatrical opening of The Salesman, to almost unanimously rave reviews.
In 2012, another of his movies, A Separation, got the Oscar for best foreign film, the first Iranian film to ever get that honor. Farhadi has been a frequent visitor to the U.S. ever since.
The Salesman tells the story of a middle-class couple in Tehran, Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) and Emad (Shahab Hosseini) who while working together on a production of Death of a Salesman are forced to move house due to problems with their building.
They move into another apartment once inhabited by a prostitute, but one night when Rana opens the door for someone she thinks will be her husband, but isn’t, she gets attacked.
While in Los Angeles two weeks ago — before Trump’s ban came into place — Farhadi spoke to Monsters and Critics and other outlets about his film.
Monsters and Critics: How did you get the idea for The Salesman?
Asghar Farhadi: For many years I had the idea of a couple who rent a place that was formerly occupied by a prostitute. It never went beyond that.
Then I thought that if the couple were theater actors, it would help me find what was missing in the story.
The job of actors in part is to know how to put themselves in another’s shoes and have empathy. This is what completed the idea for me — they would be rehearsing a play, so a story came together.
M&C: One of the themes in the film is revenge? What are your thoughts on vengeance?
AF: When someone does us harm and then we pronounce judgment, hand out the sentence and then execute that sentence, that is what I would call revenge.
It’s a risky process, liable to go wrong in many ways. That is why we consider revenge as having a negative value.
Women tend to be more forgiving than men. Because women are capable of child-bearing, their face is pointed more towards the future. Men tend to look behind more.
In the film, Rana as a female is speaking from another viewpoint. She says, “I am the one that has undergone harm,” and she wants to have a part in the judgment against the old man.
She’s upset that after she’s been attacked, her husband wants to attack and do the other person harm. She does not want to force her husband to forgive the man. She says, “where you are headed points to revenge and that is an action that is not moral”.
M&C: Is there closure for Rana?
AF: This is something that will remain with her like a wound her entire life. By the same token, she has the capacity to understand what she has gone through.
M&C: How did your career evolve?
AF: I made my first film when I was 13. I made a short film each year after that. Then I went quickly to university where I studied theater.
Now I regret it. I entered cinema too early. I started taking on the serious questions too soon. I feel my whole childhood was diminished.
I am beginning to discover that cinema is not the most important thing in the world. Childhood and living are much more important.
M&C: Communication is an important subject in your films. Could you talk about that?
AF: Communication is very important to me. In today’s world, we have all these devices so we have more means for communicating. Then why are we so alone?
It seems the more progress we make and the more we expand our abilities, the less we are communicating.
The modern world is a much more comfortable world, but misunderstandings are more frequent. People think they know one another. But in a more limited way.
M&C: Why did you pick Death of a Salesman as the the play they perform?
AF: Death of a Salesman is no longer an American play, it belongs to the whole world. It is staged frequently in Iran.
Arthur Miller empathizes with all his characters. He doesn’t say whether Willie Loman or his son is responsible for the crisis.
A significant theme in the play is humiliation.
Willie Loman commits suicide because his son, his neighbors and his co-workers humiliate him.
The tragedy of the play is that the individual feels completely useless in his family. That’s the old man, the old father, who is like Willy Loman.
The Salesman is in theaters now.