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Hell Is For Hyphenates – February 2017

We are joined this episode by film critic and author Tina Hassannia, as we look back at some of the key films of this month, including Ang Lee’s Billy Flynn’s Long Halftime Walk, Danny Boyle’s T2: Trainspotting, and Theodore Melfi’s Hidden Figures. Then, on the eve of an Academy Award ceremony that nominated Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi has refused to attend in protest of the recent US travel ban, we ask what form awards shows should take during times of social anxiety and oppressive policy. We then look at the films and career of Asghar Farhadi, the award-winning Iranian filmmaker responsible for acclaimed works such as About Elly A SeparationThe Past and The Salesman. Finally, in a special bonus segment, Sophie attends the protest screening of The Salesman in Leicester Square, and provides us with audio of the speeches from journalist and TV presenter Mariella Frostrup, model and actress Lily Cole, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, filmmaker Mike Leigh, and via pre-recorded video, Asghar Farhadi himself.

The Asghar Farhadi Cheat Sheet

Want to become an instant expert in our filmmaker of the month without committing yourself to an entire filmography? Then you need the Hell Is For Hyphenates Cheat Sheet: we program you a double that will not only make for a great evening’s viewing, but bring you suitably up-to-speed before our next episode lands…

ABOUT ELLY (2009) and A SEPARATION (2011)

Asghar Farhadi hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons recently: instead of celebrating the Best Foreign Film Academy Award nomination for his sixth feature The Salesman, coverage concentrated on his entanglement in the Trump travel ban, as both Farhadi and the film’s star Taraneh Alidoosti stated that they would boycott the awards over the block on Iranians travelling to the US. The Salesman is their fourth film together – and the third was About Elly, which got an international release after A Separation gave the director his (hopefully first of many) Academy Award in 2012. Alidoosti played the titular Elly, a shy teacher swept along on a group trip to the seaside by Sepideh, whose daughter is in her kindergarten class. Along with the three couples who’ve known each other since law school, there’s another single guest, Ahmad, and Sepideh has plans to get him and Elly together. Romantic comedy turns into a sickeningly tense he said/she said thriller when Elly disappears and Sepideh’s half-truths come to light, subtly shading the complicit and compromised lives of Tehran’s middle classes. That’s even more palpable in A Separation, where a planned divorce leads morally-upright Nader into a compromising situation: after his wife Simin leaves him to live with her mother, prior to her moving to the US to escape theocratic oppression, he hires Razieh to look after his Alzheimer’s-afflicted father. Both the grandfather and very bright daughter Termeh are caught in the battles of wills between the parents, as well as the class agony between Nader and Razieh, with a sense of consequences that many critics have compared to Michael Haneke’s Caché. Things can’t end well.

Substitutions: If you can’t get or have already seen About Elly or A Separation, you must watch the film his two subsequent films: The Past (2013), which replays some of the themes of divorce, betrayal and children bearing the brunt of adult struggles seen in A Separation, but with the added knife-twist of cross-cultural relationships and immigration, as Farhadi shoots in France. And then there’s The Salesman (2016) is a drama about drama, going back to the filmmaker’s roots in studying theatre. It follows a couple whose relationship frays during their participation in a production of Death of a Salesman, as they confront the scandalous past of their apartment’s previous tenant. What’s past is, as ever in Farhadi’s films, all too poignantly and unsettlingly present.

The Hidden Gem: Set on Iranian New Year’s Eve, Fireworks Wednesday (2006) is punctuated by small explosions, literal and metaphorical, as Alidoosti’s character Rouhi, a bride-to-be, gets sent by her employment agency to clean for a warring married couple: Mojdeh is convinced Morteza is having an affair; Morteza thinks Mojdeh is crazy. Rouhi spends a long day caught between them, their son Amir Ali, their beautician neighbour Simin, and the febrile celebratory atmosphere outside.

The next episode of Hell Is For Hyphenates, featuring Tina Hassannia talking Asghar Farhadi, will be released on 28 February 2017.