From Oscar-winning features A Separation (2011) and The Salesman (2016) to his latest offering A Hero (2022), here’s our ranking of every Asghar Farhadi film.
Asghar Farhadi’s films present a new image of Iran. He meticulously captures the mundane, portraying the way millions of normal people live in his country today. His films are a commentary on the desensitized nature of the modern world. His observations of human life and society are clearly visible through his thoughtful presentation of characters. The characters in his films are real people, with ebbs and flaws. They inhabit basic human qualities and are thus easily relatable. His female characters are women with agency and power, establishing their identity within a patriarchal social order. “If you summarize all of my movies, you get to that one word, empathy. All of these movies try to make you empathize with all those characters,” says the Iranian director.
Most Asghar Farhadi films have paved their way towards numerous awards at various prestigious International film festivals. He is the only Asian filmmaker to have won an Academy Award twice in the Best Foreign Film category. Very quickly then, here is every Asghar Farhadi film ranked:
9. Dancing in the Dust (2003)
In Farhadi’s debut Dancing in the Dust, we meet two outcasts Rayhaneh (Baran Kosari) and Nazar (Yousef Khodaparast) and participate in their arduous journey to catch a poisonous snake in the scorching desert. The two primary characters despite their age differences are two sides of the same coin. Both are disorientated mortals seeking love, care and security. The desert serves as a metaphor in the film that helps the characters achieve a fresh perspective about life.
The film lacks any of the gimmicks used to pump up emotion and the story is dramatically told. The narrative offers powerful and astute insights into the processes of self-realization, forgiveness, and sacrifice. At the same time, the treatment displays a creative evocation of human pathos with refined cinematic sensitivity. Dancing in the Dust is a gripping entry in Farhadi’s oeuvre as an innovative filmmaker. It’s a beautiful yet devastating piece of filmmaking.
8. The Beautiful City (2004)
In Farhadi’s sophomore The Beautiful City, Ala (Babak Ansari) will leave no stone unturned to gain the consent of his friend Akbar’s (Hossein Farzi-Zadeh) plaintiff and prevent the execution. The film depicts the stark reality of Iran’s Islamic judicial system. The performances of the primary characters are organic and convincing. The film provides an intense engaging observation of the rhythms of daily life. Unobtrusive direction, naturalistic performances and humanist sentiment are the films’ strengths.
Farhadi uses subtlety and simplicity to analyze how dehumanization creeps into society. He conveys a bleak aspect of social reality with a wide range of human emotions. The deftly written scenes provide the characters space to contemplate on their actions. The film is realistically and beautifully framed. Without being sentimental The Beautiful City is an evocative and stirring piece of work. The film ends as a pared-down tale of hope and denial, fear and guilt.
7. Fireworks Wednesday (2006)
Fireworks Wednesday narrates a story that zeroes in on the class conflict between the rich and the poor as well as the hypocrisies of the bourgeois. Rouhi (Taraneh Alidoosti) finds herself, unfortunately, caught up in a domestic dispute between her new boss and his wife before the Persian New Year. This psychologically intense and dramatically engaging drama gazes at marital infidelity through the perspective of a housekeeper.
The film is a critique of how the emotion and sentiment of a marginalized woman are shattered in a society. Individuals living on the margin are not counted as necessary and thus can be overlooked. Asghar Farhadi focuses on the problems of the society whose orthodoxy inflicts grave injustice on the underprivileged. The production design and costumes are effective in creating characters and set the stage for the unfolding drama. The film is lensed with great sensitivity and style as well as superbly acted. Overall, Fireworks Wednesday provides an uncompromising stance on social reality.
6. Everybody Knows (2018)
In Everybody Knows, Laura (Penélope Cruz) visits her hometown to attend a wedding and her life is turned upside down. The dramatic tension of the story revolves around a kidnapping. The incident opens a can of worms and bitter family secrets are revealed. The performances enhance the film further. Cruz, Javier Bardem and Ricardo Darín through their flawless acts reveal different shades of human emotions with confidence and poise.
The filmmaker maturely and intricately handles emotions and nuances of human relationships. Through the character of Laura, he offers an agenda of the ritualistic existence of women within the bond of marriage. The screenplay retains a strong grip on its storytelling without resorting to melodramatic tropes. The narrative moves at a brisk pace, under the skilful precision of editor Hayedeh Safiyari. Javier Limón’s disquieting score strikes the right chord. Everybody Knows is the only Spanish film to be directed by Farhadi.
5. The Past (2013)
Farhadi’s first French-language film The Past examines existential crisis through the eyes of individuals caught in a dilemma. Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) returns to France to finalize his divorce and confronts difficulties beyond his comprehension. The gripping storyline could have taken place in any city around the world. The film deals with human emotions with utmost precision. The treatment of the film strongly helps in redefining the ethos of a fractured family in changing social circumstances.
The dialogues are written in a way that emphasizes even the words unspoken. Cinematographer Mahmoud Kalari puts deft subtle touches within the frame through the use of light, shade and colors. This creates a claustrophobic milieu and reflects upon the confined state of the characters. Mosaffa, Bérénice Bejo and Tahar Rahim deliver performances that are grounded and disarmingly spontaneous.
4. The Salesman (2016)
In The Salesman theater performers Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) face a life-changing situation as they are forced to move to a new apartment. The crumbling building at the beginning of the film is symbolic of the impending deterioration in the couple’s life. The story of the film comments about individuals wrestling with their moral quandary. The film unravels like an investigative drama. Throughout the narrative, there is a persisting sense of tension.
Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman is incorporated with the narrative intelligently. It serves as a stark similarity with the difficult situation faced by the characters. Hossein Jafarian’s camera devotes as much attention to the textured subtleties of the interior locations as it does to the characters. Farhadi once again creates a delicate, disturbingly ominous tone in this powerful drama of revenge and compassion. With The Salesman, he won his second Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
3. A Hero (2022)
In Farhadi’s latest outing, Rahim on a two-day leave from prison has a plan that goes amiss creating unexpected repercussions. With an unobtrusive and observational style, Farhadi focuses on human subjectivity and interaction. He makes a comment on the prison system in Iran through the conflict arising in Rahim’s life. The film begins on a light note and ends with tragic circumstances.
Quotidian activities such as vivid scenes of domesticity and the daily drill of a working society add a layer of realism to the film. The prison represents metaphoric detention within a society governed by rigid values. The narrative emphasizes and unmasks pretensions of virtue that matter in society. Farhadi engages deeply with repulsion, disgust, antipathy, and grief. He refuses entirely to resort to a hopeful ending. The bravery of this is astounding. The film leaves the viewers questioning the authenticity of one’s identity and the politics of belonging to a society.
2. About Elly (2009)
In About Elly a panic situation arises when Ahmad (Shahab Hosseini) and his old university friends organize a three-day break on the Caspian Sea. Farhadi structures a very complex narrative with utmost precision. He brings exceptional dramatic skill to the film with a rare touch of artistic sensitivity. The film takes us step by step through the suspenseful ordeal of the characters.
The writing and direction lean towards expressing the characters’ moral and spiritual journey. The film captures the characters’ psychological states through contemplative moments of silence. Hossein Jafarian’s handheld camerawork brings a gritty realism and heightens the tension. Of the film, Asghar Farhadi says:
“Rather than asserting a world vision, a film must open a space in which the public can involve themselves in a personal reflection, and evolve from consumers to independent thinkers. Cinema has no other choice but to take up this approach, as I did when I made About Elly.”
1. A Separation (2011)
Nadir (Peyman Moaadi) and Simin (Leila Hatami) while fighting for the custody of their daughter confront an unpredicted problem. The film thematically addresses gender inequality and class division in Iran. It is also a film that shifts emphasis and perspective a number of times and puts the viewers in the position to judge the characters. The narrative unfolds in a manner that constantly upends viewers’ expectations. The formal craftsmanship and attention to every detail are accomplished to perfection. Farhadi brings a mysterious kinetic energy to the film through the editing and camera movement. It helps the film develop into a drama questioning the morality of each of the characters.
The script is intricately structured. It provides equal space and opportunity for all characters to grow. The film thematically focuses on the moral dilemma and social dichotomy we face in today’s world. A Separation is the first Iranian film to win the Academy Award for the best foreign-language film.
Asghar Farhadi has established a unique cinematic expression positioning him as an auteur. In all these films he has handled the direction and screenplay with an efficient hand. An inveterate artist, his prolific body of work is proof of his creative genius. A positive reception of his films is testament to his long-time effort as a filmmaker and as an artist. His films provide viewers with an engaging and visceral cinematic experience. By doing so, he has successfully established a precious relationship between audience and filmmaker. In an interview for IndieWire, Farhadi said:
“My wish is that one day I will make a film where people will go into theaters and completely forget it’s a film. They will feel, ‘This is a life.’”
FTII alumnus and freelance writer. My articles have appeared in Scroll.in, The Hindu, Livemint.com, The Quint, The Tribune, Upperstall, among other publications.