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Asghar Farhadi's new film grapples with the idea of heroes
Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi had been thinking about the concept behind "A Hero" long before he started making movies.
In fact, the spark came before he even knew that he'd ever make a film. As a theater student, he saw the Bertolt Brecht play "Galileo" and it triggered an idea about a person who does a good deed, has a quick ascent and even quicker descent. It's been rattling in his brain since.
"Why does a society need to make somebody a hero?" Farhadi said through translator Rayan Farzad. "And when they make somebody a hero, it seems that they are kind of asking others to be like that one person, which is unrealistic because people cannot live some other person's life."
But Farhadi is reluctant to explain too much.
"I really don't want to make the audience who haven't seen the film yet with my explanation go and watch the movie with preconceptions," he said.
In the film, which is currently available on Amazon Prime Video, a man who is imprisoned for a debt and on a brief leave comes across a lost purse of gold coins that he and his girlfriend think may solve their problems. When he discovers it's not enough to cover the debt, he helps find its owner. At first, he's celebrated. But inconsistencies start emerging in his story and little white lies become liabilities.
Farhadi wanted the realism to be even more profound than in his other films and considered casting only non-actors at one point. In the end, he found a mix of non-actors, theater actors with no film experience and a few film actors who he coached to act like the non-actors, like his lead Amir Jadidi.
"We needed to have an actor that at the very first stage, his face and his body and everything and be likable for the audience," he said of casting Jadidi as Rahim. "The danger that this character has, both because he was very passive and he couldn't make a decision on his own, it could be not that likable for the audience."
Being in production during the COVID-19 pandemic made everything more difficult, though it did mean they could spend more time in rehearsals, refining the script and characters. The shoot started at a time when it looked like numbers were going down, but soon cases were on the rise again. They even had meetings about shutting down on multiple occasions, but his crew persuaded him to keep going. Still, Farhadi had to enlist help from a visual effects house to digitally remove hundreds of masks in some shots.
The film has been widely acclaimed and has once again placed Farhadi in the Oscar conversation. "A Hero" is among the 15 films shortlisted for best international feature and will likely go on to be in the final five competing for the Oscar. Nominations will be announced on Feb. 8.
Farhadi has won in the category twice before, for "A Separation," in 2012, and "The Salesman," in 2018, when he declined to attend the Oscars ceremony in protest of the travel ban that targeted predominantly Muslim countries, including Iran.
Iranian astronaut Anousheh Ansari accepted the award on his behalf that night, and read a statement that he wrote: "My absence is out of respect for the people of my country and those of other six nations who have been disrespected by the inhumane law that bans entry of immigrants to the U.S."
Representing Iran can be fraught sometimes, too. In November, he wrote on Instagram that he did not want the Iranian government to think that he was in their debt for submitting his film to represent the country in the Oscars. If that was the case, he wrote, they should reverse that decision.
Even so, Farhadi hopes he will continue making films in Iran.
"I was born and raised there. From an emotional point of view, I have connections to the country. My subconscious, whatever it has, is from there. I always wished for making most of my movies there," he said. "But I'm not sure if in the future it is going to be the same or not."