The following questions and answers are excerpted from a conversation that followed the NBR screening of A Hero.
What was your writing process like, as this idea has been with you for a while?
Asghar Farhadi: When I was developing the concept of this idea in my head as a student, I was never thinking about writing a story. That only happened a couple of years ago. The writing process was the same as in the other movies I’ve made, which is writing in my heart—I let my subconscious work and I write anything that comes into mind. The main part of my writing process is my subconscious part. After that, I just have to find a way to put all those parts together and make sense of it. I always start with the story, and then the characters open up. I feel like it’s the story’s narrative that reveals who the characters are… I have to find the different points of the story, put the characters in those points, and that’s where you find the characters. It’s like the ropes that people put clothes on to dry; hanging the clothesline is the beginning of the film, and at that point I have to have the start point and the end point before putting the clothes on. Now that I have this rope, I know how many clothes I can put on it. And those clothes for me are the different scenes in the film.
I wanted to make a film that looks like it has no script, no cinematography… that looks like real life
The characters in the film feel so natural, and the family dynamic is so strong. How did you work to create that environment?
AF: This comes from our lives in Iran as well. Especially with the people from the smaller towns, like me. Family is very important. Something notable of these kinds of families is that we don’t have the concept of “this is just your problem.” Everyone’s problem is everyone’s problem. That’s the key to the problem of this family; when an issue comes up, everyone gathers together to solve it and sometimes that actually causes more problems! When we talk about families, the children are part of those families, and in most of my movies, the children are the observers in the fights amongst the adults. They are more involved from an emotional perspective. This is my first film where the child actors are involved, and at the end of the film, they have questions. The last question that comes up in the film is a question from a child. She asks, “what is the prison like?”.
Can you talk about the cinematography?
AF: It follows a pattern, like other parts of the film. I wanted to make a film that looks like it has no script, no cinematography… that looks like real life. Making a movie that way is so hard because you have to do so much stuff to make sure no one sees those aspects. I worked on the lines and the dialogue for many months to make sure that it feels like there’s no writer, director, or actors saying those words. The second pattern is the character traits—who are these characters? In this film, our main character is a very simple man who is in a very complicated situation. I try to show the simplicity of this man in the camera movements as well. We don’t have any complicated camera movements in the film. We don’t have any compositions that really draw attention to themselves, that show off. This also comes from the heritage of Eastern art. It’s said this is the highest level of making art. Basically, when the audience would look at art, they didn’t want them to think about the creator of the piece, but the piece itself. Many of the art pieces that we are looking at right now, we are thinking about the person that created them. That creates a gap between the viewer and the piece itself. That’s why I try with this movie, and with all my movies, to make sure that the directing and all other aspects are as if it’s just life happening, that’s how it is.
I love how you introduce our “hero” who arrives at the excavation site in a beautiful continuous shot as he goes up and up. Then we meet his girlfriend as she comes down. Can you talk about approaching these shots?
AF: I’ll try to explain a bit, though I don’t love explaining this stuff! When he gets out of the car to walk the monuments, he’s very close to the camera, like a very big man, like a hero. But as he goes further down towards the monument, he becomes so small that we can’t even see him anymore. That’s the summary of the whole movie, of what happens to him throughout the film. In the next scene, same thing. He goes all the way up to the monuments and comes down right away, more foreshadowing. For me, it wasn’t just about the main character, it’s that this couple is coming down together. It’s a very simple story of a couple going up and then they’re going to fall down. But even if the viewer doesn’t get this subtext, they won’t miss anything while watching the film. Basically, there is no meaning behind these choices, but there is a feeling they add—when you watch these scenes, you feel something. Because these are realistic films, you can’t really say there’s symbolism behind everything, but we can call these things signs. The difference between symbols and signs is that the signs have to be in the movie continuously and when they repeat, they start to gain meaning. For example, in the movie, we keep seeing stairs. The repetition of that creates a feeling for the viewer.
How did you use social media as a factor in the film? Many of the major plot points are revealed through it.
AF: This wasn’t my idea initially. I wasn’t planning to make a movie where part of it was about social media. To be honest, when I was writing this script, I didn’t think that was going to be much of the focus. It comes into play because when a character goes off into society, it’s a part of our everyday lives. There were a lot of voices that were silent before, and now we can hear those voices. It has lots of good aspects, especially for countries like Iran. At the same time, it also has some dark points to it and we haven’t found a way to solve those yet. I think social media can be too concise, and being too concise can cause misunderstanding and fuel anger. Just imagine they say someone in a metro killed eight people, but they say this in fifteen words. Saying that in fifteen words can cause a lot of misunderstanding. And although we find about the news and what’s happened, there’s a lot of gray areas that we don’t see.