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Asghar Farhadi is one of Iran’s most renowned filmmakers. Over one million Iranian moviegoers, and some five million DVD users, saw his film About Elly, awarded the Silver Bear at the 2009 Berlinale. And in Germany, his film Nader and Simin, a separation was honored in February 2011 at 61st Berlinale with the Golden Bear. “Nader and Simin” portrays a glimpse of Iran from within and recounts the failed marriage of a middle-class intellectual Tehrani couple. Whilst Simin wants to leave the country so as to facilitate a better education for their daughter, Nader doesn’t want to leave his sick father alone. To this end he employs a devout young nurse who is overstrained by the task that lies ahead of her, a task which involves taking care of this old man who is suffering from dementia. This is a complex, and powerful film with the raw material of conflict including fruitless altercations, lost trust, sundry senses of honor and a murder accusation. The film was not only awarded a Golden Bear, but also received two Silver Bears for Best Actress Ensemble and Best Actor Ensemble.

The film director born in 1972 in Khomeinishahr, Iran, first became known through his works for the stage. He directed and wrote for television series, produced short films, and penned the screenplay to Low Heights (2002) before his 2003 feature film success, Dancing in the Dust, was shown in movie theatres. Since then he has produced five feature films, all of which have been national and international successes. Asghar Farhadi studied dramatics, focusing on dramaturgy, at the Tarbiat Modares University in Teheran.

Asghar Farhadi works in a land in which critical-minded filmmakers can be threatened with censorship, imprisonment, and banned from their profession. In December 2010, his colleague Jafar Panahi was sentenced to six years imprisonment and banned from practicing his profession over the next twenty years. Although the officials chose as the film release date for Farhadi’s latest film, About Elly, the unfavorable 2009 election weekend, they were unable to keep it from becoming one of the most successful local films in recent years.

Farhadi’s screenplays speak more casually about life in Iran’s Islamic Republic than those by Panahi. At first glance, his heroines appear to wear their veils rather loosely. In Fireworks Wednesday, Rouhi laughs and makes joke while cuddling up to her fiancé on his motorbike. But then her veil gets caught in the wheels – and both are hurled to the ground. In his other films, in a similarly subliminal manner, Farhadi refers to the boundaries of freedom in Iran. His protagonists are modern metropolitan types. They flirt, make dates via the Internet, wear hooded jackets, and constantly fiddle with their smartphones. This young and west-influenced Iranian middle class seems to move about feely and nonchalantly. But then too, the group’s candor reveals itself to be a façade. Without the protagonists themselves realizing it, they play out their lives within limited social boundaries. Farhadi presents contradictions in everyday life which are generated by an official code of ethics. In his film Fireworks Wednesday, he shows that freedom of movement in Iran is largely a question of class and therefore a question of money in the end.

In About Elly (2009), a high-spirited group of young people living in the capital goes on an outing. In a house by the sea, Sepideh intends to pair off the nanny Elly with her just-divorced brother Achmed. At first everything feels like a game. Elly is kept the dark about her employer’s plans, but Sepideh’s continues to push and shove until Elly and Achmed really do seem to come closer. But suddenly the idyll ruptures: Elly vanishes without a trace, most likely while saving a drowning child by the sea. Those left wondering what happened seem to worry more about their own reputation than they do Elly’s fate, and they soon find themselves trapped in a vicious circle of deceit.

Over the last few years the traditional fireworks celebrating the coming of spring in Iran function serves as an indirect protest against the country’s religious regime. The original title of Farhadi’s Fireworks Wednesday (2006) takes its named from this celebration. Suddenly the house cleaner Rouhi finds herself amidst fireworks of an entirely different kind, when she finds herself trapped in her new employer’s marital feud. On behalf of the jealous lady of the house, Rouhi is expected to expose the husband’s affair. Over the course of a day, the house cleaner, the bickering married couple, and their environment become increasingly caught up in fruitless confrontations and insinuations.

By comparison, Beautiful City (2004) is about the power of forgiveness. At the age of sixteen, Akbar murdered his girlfriend. Now he awaits execution. With the help of the attractive thief Ala, Akbar’s sister Firoozeh makes a great effort to secure a pardon from the father of the murdered girl. In the film, Akbar’s past life as a hustler and the drug abuse of Firoozeh’s ex-husband are handled without any excitement and cleverly linked with rigorous insights into Islamic law, which gives select individuals the power to stand judge over the life and death of others. Simultaneously, the film tells of Firoozeh’s and Ala’s gently developing feelings for one another. While all the characters make an effort to do the right thing, they constantly run the risk of betraying their own values.

In Dancing in the Dust (2003) as well, Farhadi develops a social portrait typical for his cinema: Nazar’s overhasty marriage to Reyaneh abruptly ends once it becomes known that her mother works as a prostitute. Nazar gets a divorce, but then has to pay back the credit for the wedding along with his wife’s compensation. When the mountain of debt becomes too much for him, he escapes to the desert. Here he ends up competing with an old man who makes a living selling the fangs of snakes. Soon the taciturn recluse becomes so annoyed with the young man’s escalating idle chatter that Nazar’s life becomes threatened.

In Berlin, Asghar Farhadi plans to produce a feature film. On the surface, this story of love and lies addresses topics such as immigration and integration. Gradually, a woman from Iran named Sanam, her alleged Internet-lover Daniel, a German-Turkish man named Hakan, and his wife Monika become enmeshed in a tangled mass of secrets and intrigues. Will they manage to free themselves from it?




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Films: 2011 Nader And Simin, A Separation (feature film, 35 mm, 123’) 2009 About Elly (feature film, 35 mm, 119’) 2006 Fireworks Wednesday (feature film, 35 mm, 104’) 2004 Beautiful City (feature film, 35 mm, 101’) 2003 Dancing in the Dust (feature film, 35mm, 105’)
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