Hassannia On Farhadi

Desperate times call for desperate measures. And the Hell Is For Hyphenates version of desperate measures is to organise an episode in slightly the wrong order. Anarchists, we.

As we said in the episode announcement, we felt it was incredibly important to this month focus on Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi. With the USA imposing a draconian travel ban on select Muslim countries, Farhadi has chosen to protest the policy by staying at home instead of attending this year’s Oscars ceremony. This despite him receiving a Best Foreign Language film nomination for The Salesman.

The real actual Japanese poster for Chicago, and definitely not something we photoshopped in like five minutes.

We enlisted the help of Tehran-born, Toronto-based film critic and author, Tina Hassannia, an expert in Farhadi’s films and author of Asghar Farhadi: Life and Cinema. The insight Tina brings to this episode as a critic, as someone who has spoken directly with the filmmaker, and as someone familiar with the culture depicted in Farhadi’s films is unique and fascinating. Long story short, this is a great episode.

Before we get to Farhadi, Sophie and Lee cast their eyes over three of this month’s films, including Ang Lee’s adaptation Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, which was released in the USA and Australia last year, but has only this month made it to British shores.

They then look at the ups and downs, pros and cons of crafting a sequel to an iconic work, as Danny Boyle finally makes good on his decades-old promise to reunite Renton, Begby, Sick Boy and Spud in the unusually-titled T2: Trainspotting.

Then, social and scientific progressiveness come together as they always should with the engaging and crowd-pleasing biopic Hidden Figures, based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterly and directed by Theodore Melfi.

Confusion abounds.

After the reviews are done, Tina joins us to talk about what role awards shows have in activism. Following Meryl Streep’s rousing Golden Globes speech and David Harbour’s viral Screen Actors Guild call to arms, do award winners have an obligation to use the spotlight to get political? Or should the glitz and glam of red carpets be done away with completely during times of suffering?

We then dig into the films of Farhadi, looking at Dancing in the Dust (2003), Beautiful City (2004), Fireworks Wednesday (2006), About Elly (2009), A Separation (2011), The Past (2013) and The Salesman (2016). We examine the social and political context of his work in a discussion that will be interesting even if you’ve never seen any of his films.

But we’re not done yet! In a special bonus segment, Sophie heads to Trafalgar Square, where the City of London hosted a special screening of The Salesman in an open air cinema. The screening, which took place about 24 hours before our episode was released, saw an estimated 2 000 people in attendance. We hear select speeches from TV presenter and journalist Mariella Frostrup, model and actress Lily Cole, London Mayor Sadiq Khan, filmmaker Mike Leigh, and in a specially-recorded video message, Asghar Farhadi himself.

Further reading:

  • If you’re wondering what our introductions referred to, click through for details on the Bowling Green massacre and the Swedish “major incident”. Our thoughts are with the victims of these not-made-up tragedies.
  • We kick off this month’s reviews with a look at Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (which has just received a release in the UK), directed by Ang Lee. For more Ang Lee talk, listen back to our Ang Lee episode with guest Julia Zemiro. We take a look at Danny Boyle’s T2: Trainspotting. To hear our thoughts on the first Trainspotting, as well as all the other Danny Boyle films, listen back to our Danny Boyle episode with guest Sarah Ward.
  • Sophie refers to articles contrasting Danny Boyle and Antonia Bird (listen back to our Antonia Bird episode with guest Kate Hardie). The articles, which have the same opening paragraph, appeared in Bomb Magazine, and you can read the Antonia Bird piece here and the Danny Boyle one here.
  • The Manchester film and media school Danny Boyle is helping to launch will teach 1000 students each year from diverse backgrounds.
  • The book that Hidden Figures is adapted from is called Hidden Figures: The Story of the African Women Who Helped Win the Space Race and is by Margot Lee Shetterly. It can be found in book stores and all the familiar online places.
  • We refer to some recent protest speeches at awards ceremonies. You can check out Meryl Streep’s Golden Globes speech here, David Harbour’s Screen Actors Guild speech here, and Ken Loach’s BAFTA speech here.
  • Sophie refers to the Fine Young Cannibals returning their awards in protest after the Brit Awards screened a video message from Margaret Thatcher. We couldn’t find a video of the 1990 moment, but it is referenced here in The Guardian.
  • Sophie also mentions the red carpet protests from Raising Films. Check out their manifesto on Red Carpet activism here.
  • Asghar Farhadi and Salesman star Taraneh Alidoosti talk about their decision to not attend the 2017 Oscar ceremony due to the US administration’s recently-imposed travel ban.
  • We spend much of the middle segment offering protest speech advice to anyone attending the Oscars. Lee has an incredibly helpful video guide on Academy Award etiquette that aired almost exactly ten years ago, which features a segment on the dos and don’ts of Oscar protest speeches.
  • Asghar Farhadi previously won an Oscar for A Separation at the 2012 ceremony, Iran’s first ever win for Best Foreign Language film. Watch his moving speech here.
  • The Oscar speeches weren’t quite as political as we were anticipating, but that doesn’t mean the evening wasn’t devoid of strong opinions and activism. Here’s Time Magazine‘s roundup of the evening’s political moments.
  • You can read Tina’s review of Farhadi’s latest film The Salesman in Canada’s National Post.
  • And you can read Sophie’s review of The Salesman in Literal Magazine.
  • Here’s a great piece by BFI Head of Festivals and London Film Festival director Clare Stewart about the importance and impact of Asghar Farhadi’s films.
  • As you now know (but we didn’t yet at time of recording), Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman won Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars. He was, as we know, not there to accept the award, but had Iranian-American businesswoman Anousheh Ansari—the first Iranian to go into space—read out a statement on his behalf, which can be both viewed and read here.
  • If you want to see the video of Asghar Farhadi’s message to the audience in Trafalgar Square, Curzon Artificial Eye has posted the video here.
  • Sophie described the evening, the speeches and the mood of the crowd in an article for Sight and Sound, available here on the BFI website.
  • Don’t forget to pick up Tina’s book Asgar Farhadi: Life and Cinema, featuring critical analysis of his work as well as interviews with the man himself. You can read an excerpt on the Toronto International Film Festival website.
  • You can listen to Tina’s podcast Everything But Sports, co-hosted by Mallory Andrews, on Soundcloud or subscribe on iTunes.
  • Finally, the directors of the five films nominated for Best Foreign Language Film—Martin Zandvliet (Land of Mine), Hannes Holm (A Man Called Ove), Asghar Farhadi (The Salesman), Maren Ade (Toni Erdmann), Martin Butler & Bentley Dean (Tanna)—released an extraordinary joint statement regarding the culture of fear in the USA:

Outro music: score from About Elly (2009), composed by Andrea Bauer

The latest episode of Hell Is For Hyphenates, featuring Tina Hassannia talking the films of Asghar Farhadi, can be heard on Stitcher Smart Radio, subscribed to on iTunes, or downloaded/streamed via our website.

Thousands gather in Trafalgar Square for the screening of Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman.
Whether you’re from Iran or Iraq, Streatham or Shoreditch, Lebanon or London, you are welcome.” London mayor Sadiq Khan.
Filmmaker Mike Leigh sings the praises of his friend and colleague Asghar Farhadi.
Asghar Farhadi speaks to the London crowd in a specially-recorded video message.

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