An Ode to Asghar Farhadi

After seeing Asghar Farhadi’s Academy Award-winning The Salesman earlier this year, I posted the following tweetstorm on Twitter:

Only recently I finally caught up with About Elly (2009) from earlier in his career, in which he puts his spin on early-modern, living-room, ensemble-(melo)dramas. First and foremost – and as always – his ability to craft so many equally-individualized characters with such precise writing and acting shines through, a hallmark of this genre’s theatrical storytelling. In addition, Farhadi shares a fascination with these playwrights regarding the ways that the contours of a specific spatial setting can partially determine the drama of their temporary occupants’ lives. On a more macro level, the sociopolitical environments of the characters’ home countries play an equally influential role on this drama, specifically regarding gender relations in About Elly.

Yet herein lies the importance of Farhadi’s work, especially when compared to Middle Eastern stories told by western filmmakers. The latter tend to treat their characters as mere devices representing sociopolitical ideas, robbing them of being realistically relatable. Yet since Farhadi’s a local Iranian, he strives simply to capture the lives of the people around him, with which he’s inherently more familiar than any foreigner. This is perhaps his biggest strength as a writer; he understands how to portray his characters not as inhuman embodiments of their sociopolitical environments, but rather as nuanced products of them.

By so inextricably intertwining personal identities with their political surroundings, the unfolding of his stories – which are usually centered around the characters’ contested, subjective perspectives, an idea at the heart of the best theatre writing as well – inevitably adopts allegorical sociopolitical implications, commenting on Iranian culture not polemically but rather in an empathetically observational way. Even though understanding their personal lives and their sociopolitical situations becomes one and the same, Farhadi always puts forth the highly theatrical notion that the truth – regarding both what’s happened in the past and the identities of those around us – are impossible to know from everyday fleeting interactions, particularly in all inherently-fleeting artistic recreations. Farhadi understands this paradoxical relationship between art and life, namely that the latter can only be understood in its inconceivable totality whereas the former is obviously finite. And yet, art in fact lasts longer than mortal lives, most of which would be largely forgotten by future generations if not for artistic recordings.

As such, Farhadi casts equal doubt on himself and others who venture to capture truth in art, symbolized in the movie’s extended first shot of a slit of light surrounded by total darkness. As a literal framing mechanism, this image introduces the subsequent story as that sliver of light, with the audience ultimately only receiving a small portion of Iran’s potential truth. We only realize what we’re looking at when the picture expands, the sort of omniscient perspective falsely put forth by too many movies. Contrary to such implicit artistic assertions, Farhadi realizes his vision of Iran is only HIS version of its truth, and the truth of the whole country – similar to how the truth of these characters’ drama lies in the eye of each beholder – can only be attained by compiling the perspectives of everyone who participates in it, a near impossibility. Even so, each ray of light that does illuminate this long-misunderstood culture should be cherished, especially when they’re as immaculately executed as Farhadi’s cinematic visions.

Given the theatricality of these visions, they – and Farhadi – would be a match made in heaven on the stage. As noted above, Chekhov must be an inspiration for him; in About Elly, the audience’s individual, subjective interpretations of an abstract noise – the one marking Elly’s mysterious disappearance – playing a major part in how they understand the whole kit and caboodle calls to mind the famous denouement of The Cherry Orchard. And again, any theatrical venture led by Farhadi should of course come with his trusty company of masterful performers. We would all be better off if Asghar Farhadi shared his unique visions of Iran with the world in as many different mediums as possible, reaching the most amount of people unknowingly waiting to be simultaneously educated and floored by his compassionate knowledge.






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