By Kayhan Life Staff
The Oscar-winning Iranian film director Asghar Farhadi just won one of the top prizes at the Cannes Film Festival — the Grand Prix — for his new movie “A Hero” (“Ghahreman”), about a man who is in jail for non-repayment of a debt and what happens when he leaves prison for a two-day break.
Farhadi is also a double Oscar winner: His films “A Separation” and “The Salesman” won the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film in 2012 and 2017, respectively.
Comments he made before the awards ceremony — in an interview with Variety magazine, and at his movie’s official Cannes press conference — have sparked reactions from Iranians on social media.
In an interview published July 13 in Variety magazine, Farhadi was asked about a “risky” scene in “The Salesman” where an actor shares a video on Twitter “of Iran’s plainclothes ‘morality police’ insulting and attacking a woman on the street for not wearing the hijab.”
According to Variety, Farhadi replied: “This has to do with the fact that Iran is a repressive country in which you have no freedom to speak up and say what you think.”
At a press conference later that day, Farhadi explained that in the Variety interview, he had used the Persian words “fazay-e basteh,” meaning “confined space,” which had been mistranslated as “repressive.”
“With all due respect to Variety, I must point out that it was the impression of the reporter who translated my remarks,” Farhadi explained. “We were speaking about an issue which may not exist in Europe, but that exists in Iran. People in other countries think social media does not exist in Iran. That is why the interviewer was surprised to find out that people have access to social media in Iran.”
“I said: Of course there is, noting that it may even be more colorful than in the West. I was asked why. I explained that because there are restrictions on expressing views, people use social media to express themselves. In a country where people can freely express themselves, there is less need for using social media.”
Another journalist asked Farhadi what he thought of some of the actors in his film “A Hero” taking parts in productions by the Iranian Intelligence Ministry and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). Farhadi said that as far as he was concerned, “actors are actors.”
Asked whether he felt a duty as an artist to address social and political issues in Iran, Farhadi said: “I think my film ‘The Beautiful City’  was the first film that dealt with the execution of children younger than 18. People still watch that film and wonder what made a 14-year-old commit murder. My initial thought was to issue a firm statement, instead of making a film about it. If I had issued a statement, it would not have been a good one, because writing statements and articles is not my specialty. I can draw attention to the issue and raise awareness by telling a story. I believe this is a more effective approach.”
Farhadi’s comments led many Iranians to take to social media.
Hossein Ronaghi tweeted: “Mr. Farhadi, do not issue a statement. As you said, inform the international community about the restrictions on filmmakers in Iran. Speak about censorship in cinema and the arts. Talk about Iranian women who do not have the freedom to get a divorce, ride bicycles and motorcycles and live their lives.”
In a tweet, Kayhan London also reported on Farhadi being asked at the press conference that two of the actors in the film, Amir Jadidi and Mohsen Tanabandeh, had previously worked [in films produced] by the IRGC and the Ministry of Intelligence.
Footage of the press conference, included in the tweet, showed Farhadi replying: “I see actors as actors. An actor does their best to play a role in a film. I have not seen the films you mentioned. When I make a film, I look for an actor who will be the best in the world to play that role. I do not look at the person’s passport or how they view life. I let them help me with my film. They are also free to live their lives and have their views outside their collaborative work with me.”
Kayhan London also published a tweet by the renowned director Mohammad Rasoulof (@rasoulof), whose passport was seized by the Iranian government in 2017, and who is banned from leaving Iran.
“If our professional identity were to destroy our vital human sensitivity, then we become [inanimate] objects. [The comment] ‘#an actor is an actor’ normalizes becoming a thing. My dear Asghar Farhadi, according to your reasoning, [Adolf] Eichmann was only a soldier who was only trying to do his job well-@babakazar#banality-[of]-evil-Eichmann-in-Jerusalem.”
The term “banality of evil,” used by Rasoulof in his tweet, was coined by Hannah Arendt (1906-1975), a German-American political theorist, in a series of articles she wrote for The New Yorker in 1963 on the trial of German Nazi SS leader Adolf Eichmann in Israel. Viking Press published the collections of her pieces and notes in 1963 in a book titled “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil.”