Art and Experience: Iranian director Asghar Farhadi gave a master class Tuesday at the Doha Film Institute’s Qumra event and subsequently also spoke to a small group of journalists, all via Skype from Madrid where he is in pre-production on his untitled next project toplining Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem. In his first interview since recently winning his second Academy Award for best foreign language film for “The Salesman,” the auteur spoke about his Oscar victory; his new Spanish-language film which will feature no Iranian actors; and his desire to make a comedy in Iran. Excerpts from the interview.
How do you feel about winning your second Oscar?
I had already won an Oscar for “A Separation,” but it was a little different this time. I have a different distributor, Amazon [and Cohen Media Group], and I had less reason to go to the U.S. to do promotion there. The film was already well known, people had already seen it. However I originally intended to go to the ceremony, that was my first intention. Then because of the travel ban I made a decision not to go and to watch the ceremony online.
It’s been pointed out that political considerations [connected to the Trump travel ban] may have tarnished the value of your artistic accomplishment in winning a second Oscar. In other words, that Academy voters may have felt driven to vote for “The Salesman” to protest against the ban.
The film was on its own journey before all this happened. I have no control over what happened afterwards, and for myself I can say there was no calculation. I just reacted spontaneously to the travel ban, and to what I thought about it and that’s why I decided not to go. As far as making conjectures on what criteria persuaded people to vote for it or not, it’s quite complicated. I don’t know how one could know why voters chose the film.
Can you talk about your decision to ask Iranian-American entrepreneur and space explorer Anousheh Ansari to represent you at the Oscars ceremony? Did you chose her?
Yes, I chose her and [former NASA engineer] Firouz Naderi carefully for two reasons: because they are Iranian immigrants who have achieved major success in the U.S. and also because I thought their profession was interesting because when you are high in the sky you no longer see all these borders and divisions that we have at ground level.
How did people in Iran react to the Oscar for “The Salesman”?
Generally speaking, people were very happy and welcomed this good news very warmly. But then there are some people, a minority, who see everything from a political angle, so they had some more bitter interpretations of the victory. But that’s not what matters most.
You are now in Madrid, in pre-production on an untitled Spanish-language film starring Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem. Will working with these big non-Iranian stars change the experience for you?
Well as you know I made “The Past” in France, so I’ve already had an experience abroad. After that I was supposed to make this Spanish project. But all of a sudden I felt, for very personal and creative reasons, that I needed to go back home and make a film in Iran, and that’s what happened with “The Salesman.” Now I’m back on the Spanish project. I’m still working on the script. They are big stars, but I get along with them. We have a very easy, friendly, relaxed relationship and we happen to all be very enthusiastic about the script, so that’s a good way to start the project.
I’ve read that it’s a psychological thriller that revolves on a family of winemakers living in rural Spain. Can you say more?
It’s about family, that’s all I can say.
“The Past” was set in Paris, but it had Iranian elements. Will that also be the case with this film?
It’s different from “The Past.” This one is a hundred percent Spanish and all the actors and the characters are Spanish-speaking.
When will you start shooting?
We should start shooting this summer and it should be ready for next year.
Your films all seem to be about resiliency under pressure. Do you think you will ever make a comedy?
That is one of my biggest wishes, to make a film dealing with human reality through comedy. I hope to do that soon, when I go back to Iran.