Asghar Farhadi

(Copyright © 2011 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )

6.8 Beautiful City (2004)
7.1 The Past
7.4 About Elly (2009)
7.4 Separation (2011)
7.1 Forusande/ The Salesman (2016)
7.0 Everybody Knows (2018)

Asghar Farhadi (Iran, 1972) debuted with Raghs dar Ghobar/ Dancing in the Dust (2003), followed by Shah-re Ziba/ The Beautiful City (2004) and Chaharshanbe-soori/ Fireworks Wednesday (2006).

Darbareye Eli/ About Elly (2009) is a powerful thriller in which a disappeared woman could be either a hero or a villain, an ambiguity that causes strain within a group of friends. The "whodoneit" is not about who is the killer but whether there was a death at all. The mystery almost fades away when a moral issue is introduced, and a betrayed man becomes the victim of the whole ordeal, regardless of whether she is alive or dead.

A group of middle-class Iranian friends travels to the shores of the Caspian Sea on a three-day vacation. They are former classmates at the law faculty of the university. Sepideh, who is married with the gray-haired Amir and has a young daughter, has organized a three-day vacation to the seaside with two couples of friends: Shohreh and her husband Peyman, who have two young children, Nazy and her husband Manuchehr. Nazy's brother Ahmad is visiting from Germany, where he lives and where he was married before his German wife divorced him. Sepideh is scheming to find Ahmad's a new wife and so she has invited her daughter's kindergarten teacher, Elly, a simple and shy woman. Sepideh has booked a cabin at the seaside but the caretakers already told her on the phone that it is available for only one night. Sepideh was hoping to get it for three days upon arrival, but the caretakers tell her that it is just impossible. Sepideh begs them to find a solution because she is with friends and even invents the story that Ahmad and Elly are newlyweds. (It is also illegal in Iran for unmarried couples to travel together). The caretakers rent them a villa that has broken windows, no cellphone reception, and has not been cleaned in a while. The group accepts and makes the best of the lousy accommodation in a festive mood. They all conspire with Sepideh to leave Ahmad and Elly together. Elly is embarrassed to hear them make jokes behind her back as if she had already accepted Ahmad. Elly is supposed to leave the following morning, but the aggressive Sepideh refuses to let her. Elly is a bit angry but has no choice because the villa is far from public transportation. Sepideh and Shohreh go shopping while the men play volleyball. Nazy goes inside to cook, leaving Elly to watch the children who are playing on the beach. Elly briefly plays with their kite. Then we see the kite floating in the air, clearly not dragged by anyone. Then two of the children come crying to the men begging for attention: Shohreh's and Peyman's son is in the water. Ahmad and Peyman jump in the sea and try to find the boy, and they are soon followed by several other volunteers. Finally Amir standing on a cliff spots the child floating lifeless on the waves and directs Ahmad to rescue him. The child survives but it was a close call. Elly is nowhere to be found. They suspect that she tried to rescue the boy and drowned. When Sepideh returns from her errand, she goes hysterical upon hearing the news that Elly is missing and jumps in the water all dressed up. But it is a vain effort: the sea is too turbulent and the search has to be called off. The police arrive and ask for Elly's id card. The women search in vain for her bag and begin suspecting that Elly simply abandoned the children and went home, which would be an irresponsible and cruel action. After all, the children did not see her jump in the water. But, when informed of their suspicion, Sepideh confesses that she hid Elly's bag to keep Elly from leaving. Now some of them want to inform Elly's family of her death, while others still suspect that she may have left without saying anything. Sepideh inspects the beach the moment the sun comes out, because usually a body is washed ashore in the morning; but there is no body. Now Sepideh too suspects that Elly may have simply left and would like to check at the bus station, but her husband Amir is angry at her for inviting a stranger and organizing the whole mess. Shohreh and Peyman also argue about leaving their son alone in the water. Going over the events of the evening, the group now realizes that they may have offended Elly. They finally decide to call but there is no cell phone signal at the villa so two of the men have to drive to town. They call Elly's mother but the mother doesn't behave as if Elly went on a trip at all. The mother sounds suspicious of the callers and treats them coldly. Back at the villa, the group is torn between the two opposite possibilities: if Elly died trying to save the boy, they shouldn't abandon the search; if Elly left the children alone, they have no duty to worry about her. Amir discovers that Elly's cell phone is in his wife's bag and questions Sepideh accusing her of hiding something. The other women have to stop him before he beats her. Sepideh keeps claiming that she doesn't know anything about Elly, but her husband doesn't believe her anymore. Ahmad drives to town to call the last number that called Elly on her cell phone. The man at the other end identifies himself as her brother. Ahmad tells him that Elly had an accident and the brother starts driving towards the beach. But Sepideh tells Ahmad that Elly is a single child. That man is probably... her fiance. Now Elly has to confess to Ahmad that Elly was engaged against her will and was trying to break up. Ahmad and Sepideh meet Alireza, the boyfriend. Then Ahmad speeds back to the villa in order to inform that group that the man is Elly's fiance, and might get upset if he learns that Elly was lured there to flirt with another man. Everybody must pretend that Elly was invited solely to look after the children. But the women now feel bad that Elly was cheating on this nice man. When he finds out that the caretakers thought Elly was a newlywed, Alireza hits Ahmad and the rest has to stop the charade and tell him the truth: that they didn't know she was engaged. At first he attacks Ahmad, but then he asks to speak alone with Sepideh, the one who invited Elly. He only wants to know whether Sepideh forced Elly to meet Ahmad or Elly was willing to. When Sepideh tells him that Elly was willing to, he simply breaks down in tears. Later he is asked by the police to identify the body, that has been finally washed ashore by the tide. Now the group knows for sure that Elly did not abandon the children, that she died trying to rescue the boy.

Jodai-e Nader az Simin/ A Separation (2011) is set in a world in which filial duty comes first, even if it ruins a family's life, in which lying is a capital sin, no matter what, and thief is even worse; honor reigns over anything else; and all sorts of social rules stem from religious beliefs. The only one who dares twist those rules is the wife asking for a divorce, who would sacrifice her husband's old father for her happiness and is not too upset go find out that her husband lied in court. Unfortunately, there is a teenage daughter who is more conservative and religious than her mother...

A highly educated woman and her husband Simin are in divorce court. She wants to divorce him and blames him, while he claims she's the one deserting her family. The story is that she spent months filing papers in order to get a visa to emigrate, and now that she has all the papers ready to leave her husband doesn't want to, because he has a senile father who needs full-time attention, and doesn't allow their teenage daughter Termeh to follow the mother. The visa is only good for 40 days, so the mother is in a hurry to get a court's decision regarding their divorce and the fate of their daughter. The daughter is happy to stay with her father, and the court doesn't recognize any validity in the woman's claim. The woman therefore leaves the house and moves back with her parents and finds a housekeeper for her husband, Razieh. This Razieh is the wife of a man, Samadi, who has lost his job and has been in jail for debts. She is pregnant and brings her little daughter with her. She needs the money but she realizes that she cannot do the job because she is left alone with the old man and has to change his clothes, something that is a sin according to religion. She tries to have her husband replace her, but her husband keeps going to jail. So she comes back. Taking care of the old senile man is not easy: left alone for a few minutes, he wanders outside and she has to search for him in the street through the crazy traffic of the city. Then one day she has to leave in a hurry and ties the old man to the bed. When Simin comes home, he finds the old man lying on the floor, almost dead. Furious, Simin refuses to let Razieh in when she returns from her mysterious errand and pushes her out, while she demands her pay. He even accuses her of stealing money from the house. He shuts the door in her face and goes back to his father. Razieh is hurt most of all that he accuses her of being a thief.
Then they hear a big commotion: Razieh fell down the stairs. Later the wife informs Simin that Razieh had a miscarriage. Simin and the wife rush to the hospital to hear what happened. He meets Razieh's husband Samadi who is furious with Simin and has to be restrained. Razieh claims that Simin pusher her down the stairs. Simin is therefore accused of murder because the fetus was old enough to qualify as a human being. In court his line of defense is that he didn't lnow that the woman was pregnant and in any case he didn't push her down the stairs. A key witness is Termeh's tutor who testifies that Razieh told her about her pregnancy when Simin was in the kitchen, not in the room with them. The tutor also confirms that the pregnancy was not very visible. This seems to confirm that Simin did not know that Razieh was pregnant, which in turn means that he cannot be accused of murder. However, Simin's wife has already guessed the opposite: Simin did not express surprise when she told him that Razieh has lost her child... She mentions it in passing to her daughter, who later asks her father, and he denies it one more time to his daughter.
Simin is now in bigger trouble, not only because he is accused of murder but also because he has to stay in jail until he pays bail, with nobody to take care of his father. His wife and her family step in: they take care of the old man and they pay bail. The daughter is a silent witness to all of this, but she seems to side with her father: she blames her mother for causing all of this by moving out. In court Razieh's husband and Simin trade insults and accusations. Razieh, in turn, gets accused of mistreating the old man when she tied him to the bed and she cannot defend herself. Her husband loses his temper and the court sentences him to jail. Razieh begs the judge to forgive the hot-tempered husband who has enough trouble of his own, and even Simin, worried about the poor woman who just had a miscarriage, has to beg the judge on Samadi's behalf. However, Samadi continues his vicious fight against Simin. He enters Termeh's school for girls to confront the key witness, Termeh's teacher, who has insinuated that Samadi may have been beating Razieh (their little child drew a picture of the two fighting). Samadi is thrown out of the school but leaves swearing revenge. Simin's wife is now worried about Termeh's safety and Simin resents it as if she is trying to take advantage of the situation to obtain custody of the teenager. His wife, however, simply wants him to pay "blood money" to settle the dispute.
The court decides to examine the scene of the crime with all the people involved. Simin shows how it would have been impossible for him to push Razieh down the stairs simply by pushing her out of the door. The neighbors who helped Razieh confirm his version of the facts. They also state that Razieh had been feeling dizzy. Samadi is desperate that everybody seems to be against him. Simin is convinced that Razieh had a miscarriage for other reasons. He remembers that Razieh had mentioned a gynecologist and wants to find that phone number. Unfortunately, his daughter catches him lying: Razieh had mentioned the gynecologist in the same conversation in which she had mentioned that she was pregnant... This means that Simin heard from the kitchen the whole conversation, including the fact that she was pregnant; and therefore he has lied to the court and to her. Simin confesses to his daughter that he lied about it given what the consequences would be (he would be accused of murder, not just of a violent act).
Meanwhile, the other case, the one against Razieh, requires a doctor's visit of the bruises on the old man's body. At the last minute Simin decides to withdraw (and thus spare Razieh more trouble).
Suddenly the tutor recants her testimony, but Termeh lies to the judge and saves her dad. Her mother though wants to end the whole story and, without asking her husband's permission, meets with Samadi and Razieh and offers blood money. Samadi is stubborn but the elders of his family convince him to accept. Now Simin's wife has to convince Simin. She is willing to put up the money and implores him to agree in order to end their daughter's suffering but he cannot be moved: he feels innocent and does not want to pay a bribe. His daughter cries: she knows that her mother would have come back home if her father had accepted to pay the blood money. Her father makes her choose: if even she deems he guilty, call back her mom and he will accept the deal. Termeh gets into her mom's car and leaves with her.
Nonetheless, Simin eventually agrees to the deal. Now it is Razieh who has a problem: she confesses to Simin's wife that she has doubts because she was hit by a car when the old man ran out of the house and she ran after him. That night she had pain and the fetus never moved again. Razieh is afraid that taking the blood money would constitute a sin and Allah might punish her. Razieh asks Simin's wife for a simple favor: don't pay the blood money. Razieh does not want that money to be paid.
The two families meet to close the deal. Simin signs the cheques and says he will deliver them no matter what but first he wants to say something and wants to say it in front of his daughter and in front of Razieh. The women are called. Simin asks Razieh to swear on the Quran (the holy book of her religion) that he caused her miscarriage. She refuses. Her husband gets madly furious: their family's honor is destroyed. And Razieh is mad at Simin's wife for not stopping the deal.
Simin and his wife are in divorce court again. The judge tells Termeh that her parents have agreed to let her decide with whom she wants to live. The judge asks whether she has decided. She answer "yes" but asks that her parents wait outside. They have to sit outside and wait for the judgment to be delivered. (We never know whom Termeh picked).

Forusande/ The Salesman (2016) is a drama of revenge, one in which the victim becomes the torturer, and possibly commits a bigger crime than the one he is trying to avenge. The moral parable of the male protagonist is almost the opposite of the parable of the protagonist of Arthur Miller's play "Death of a Salesman" (1949). Both feel humilitated but the contract between the film and the play almost makes the protagonist of the film look mentally sick: his humiliation amounts to a little gossip by the neighbors. But probably the specific play has little to do with the film, it is just a subtle way to show what happens to an actor's psychology when someone intrudes in his most sacred private space (in this case, his wife's privacy). He feels so humiliated by the intrusion (regardless of how minuscule the damage is) that he can no longer act in theater. He is so possessed by the thought of cleansing the intrusion from his life that he can only live his real life. And so he tries the only method that he can think of: revenge, shaming the intruder in front of the intruder's own family. This turns the theater actor into an even better actor in real life because now he is unleashing his most feral instincts, playing not the character of a distant place and distant time but his own deepest feelings.

One evening a building begins to shake and all the families are told to evacuate because the building may collapse. Emad and Rana are walking down the stairs when an old neighbor calls for help: her son cannot walk. Emad carries the boy down the stairs. We see from a cracked window the cause of the collapse: an excavator is digging next to a building (implying that probably the family had previously refused to leave). Emad is also a professor who teaches literature. His students want to attend the opening of his production of Arthur Miller's play "Death of a Salesman" (1949). While rehearsing the play with other actors, they look for a new apartment. One of the actors, Babak, takes them to a large apartment that is vacant, and doesn't even want money. The previous tenant still has to come back to pick up some belongings. Emad and Rana don't hear when a neighbor tells Babak to be more careful in picking tenants, implying that the previous one was a weird one. They call the previous tenant who claims that she is still looking for a place and can't come and pick up her belongings. Babak break a door that is still locked and they find many belongings inside the room. Emad is opposed, but Rana insists on packing everything and moving it outside. That night it starts raining heavily and Emad tries to protect the belongings that have been dumped outside. The following day during the preparation for the opening night of the play Babak mentions that the previous tenant warned him not to touch her belongings. While Emad and Babak perform in the theater, Rana goes home to continue cleaning up the apartment and unpacking her belongings. Rana, exhausted, takes a shower. Someone rings the bell and she opens the door without checking who it is, probably assuming that it is Emad. But it is not Emad because Emad is buying food. When he gets home, he rings in vain: Rana doesn't open and he has to ring a neighbor. Rana is not home and there is a lot of blood on the floor of the bathroom. He finds her at the hospital, unconscious. The neighbors tell him that they heard screams and then saw a man run away. They tell Emad that the previous tenant was a prostitute and they suspect the attacker was one of her clients. Rana has a small wound on the head which doesn't explain the blood on the floor: the attacker must have cut his feet. Rana is soon released from the hospital but is still under shock, terrified to be alone, terrified of using the bathroom. Emad finds a mobile phone and a bunch of keys on a chair that don't belong to them. He tries them on all the cars of the neighborhood, finds the one and drives it to their underground garage. Rana didn't see his face so that's their only clue. Emad also finds some money on a bookshelf and hides it in a drawer: it was left by the intruder. Emad wants to involve the police but Rana is ashamed of talking about an intruder in the bathroom. Rana insists on performing as usual the play (Emad plays the salesman Willy and his wife Rana plays Willy's wife Linda) but in the middle of a performance she starts crying and can't stop. They have to cancel the performance. Emad confronts Babak, who hid the profession of the previous tenant, but Babak fails to appreciate the gravity of the situation because he thinks that Rana simply slipped in the bathroom. The neighbors are surprised that Emad is not calling the police, but Rana is strongly opposed. Nor does she want him to leave the house. She wants to move to another apartment. Babak finally learns what happened (the intruder) from the neighbors and seems honestly embarrassed. One evening she finds the money that Emad hid in a drawer and uses it to buy food. When emad realizes it, he loses his appetite and throws away the delicious dinner prepared by Rana. Later, Emad listens to the messages on the answering machine of the previous tenant and finds a friendly message left by Babak for the prostitute. Rana is still opposed to reporting the incident to the police because she feels that she's guilty of having opened the door without asking who was at the door. Emad, instead, wants to find the man who attacked her. One of his students is the son of a retired cop, so Emad asks him to find the owner of the car. On stage, Emad's anger shows up: he insults Babak during a performance as if the lines were part of the play. One day Emad spots the car parked in front of a bakery. He walks inside and sees the owner: a man called Majid. He follows the car and sees Majid deliver bread to various places. Eventually, Emad approaches Majid pretending to be looking for someone to move some belongings. Majid is not interested in the job but Emad leaves him his phone number. Eventually Majid calls that he can do the job. Emad gives him the address of his old apartment. Meanwhile, Rana has realized that something is wrong between Emad and Babak because the two men don't talk when Babak comes to pack the belongings of the previous tenant. Emad is waiting for Majid at the old apartment but an old man with a weak heart shows up: Majid sent someone else because he is too busy. Majid is busy with the daughter of this old man, his fiance. Emad tells the old man what Majid did. The old man refuses to believe that Majid is the intruder. Emad demands to meet Majid in person but the old man finds excuses. Emad becomes suspicious and asks the old man to take his shoes and socks off: one of the feet is bandaged. Emad realizes that the old man is the man who attacked Rana in the bathroom. The old man swears that he didn't touch Rana, that he ran away the moment he realized Rana was not the prostitute. Emad wants to shame the old man in front of his family but the old man refuses to call his daughter. Emad, finally facing the intruder who caused so much pain to Rana, loses his temper and locks the old man in a closet, knowing that the old man is claustrophobic and with a weak heart. We then see the last scene of the play, with Emad in the coffin and Rana crying. The play ends and the audience claps. After the play Emad takes Rana with him to the old apartment and shows her the old man, except that the old man is feeling ill. Emad tells Rana that he wants to humiliate the old man in front of his wife and Majid. Rana is shocked by his cruelty. The old man begs Emad to let him go. He then begs Rana and starts crying. Rana would let him go but Emad refuses, determined to get his revenge. Then Rana leaves. Emad calls her back: the old man has just fainted. Emad and Rana now panic that the old man might die. The old man recovers just when his family arrives. Rana has time to tell Emad that she will divorce him if he goes ahead with his revenge. The old man's family believe that Emad called them because the old man fainted, and even thanked Emad and Rana for taking care of him. When the wife makes it up the stairs, in tears, explaining that the old man came only to do a favor to Majid, but that he's not supposed to work anymore, Emad feels guilty. Emad demands to be left alone with the old man again and Rana fears more revenge but instead Emad simply gives the old man the money that he had left in the apartment. But also slaps him in the face: no humiliation in front of his family, but a slap in the face. The old man returns to the room where his family is waiting, but is feeling increasingly ill. Majid tries to carry him downstairs on his shoulders, but the old man loses consciousness, and his family has to call an ambulance. Rana watches with tears in her eyes. We are not told if the old man survives or dies. In the last scene they are at the theater, preparing in silence for the performance, not talking to each other.

Everybody Knows (2018)

(Copyright © 2003 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )