“If you have a political discourse about him, you are belittling this character,” Farhadi said. “You could think that -- I don’t mind that — but what is important is that the grandfather talks less than everybody else.” It is a curious fact about Iranian directors, who suffer the impact of a working in a conservative society: They are the ones who give voice to the traditional society, who help it make its best and worst claims on modernity.
Success and international acclaim are no surety against government interference for Farhadi. Although many of the most acclaimed Iranian films over the past decade have dealt with the hard edge of life in Iran, the focus (as in the films of Majid Majidi) is often on children. Directors have tended to shoot outdoors, avoiding the complications of filming adult men and women together indoors, where social taboos are stronger and offense more easily given. But Farhadi’s narrative is about adults, about divorce, about lies and recriminations, and about a woman who desperately wants to leave Iran. And it is an assertively indoor film, set in a lovingly detailed apartment that seems to give viewers a powerful sense of the sophistication of Tehran’s upper middle class.
Although divorce is increasingly common in Iran, the subject was still a risk for Farhadi.
“I was lucky to get it passed,” he said of the government censors who must sign off on scripts. The process of finessing government intrusion begins with the very conception of a film.
“First, you have to decide if you want to show the film in Iran or not,” he said. “If so, you have to get permission to make it.”
For Farhadi, there’s no question that he is making his films to be seen in Iran, which sets him apart from directors such as Bahman Ghobadi, who have chosen exile over the cumbersome, frustrating and unpredictable process of internal filmmaking.
“I prefer, before anyone else sees it, that Iranians see it,” Farhadi said.
Making films for the international audience also has its complications.
“A lot of films will be distributed overseas, but won’t be shown in Iran,” said Tom Vick, curator of film at the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler Galleries. But that can serve government interests as well. “It is almost a way of saying, ‘Look how tolerant we are.’ They use these films as a kind of propaganda.”
Farhadi said that even as his film has racked up honors and ecstatic reviews, government officials have looked for “new problems” in its content. “From the financial side, the technical questions, it is easier” to make a film after an international success such as “A Separation,” he said. “But the government side is different. They are now very focused on me.”