Iranian director holds filmmaker master-class in Zurich to discuss his working methods, style and his next film.

Iranian director Asgar Farhadi was in Zurich Sunday as the subject of a filmmaker master-class.

During the wide-ranging session, the festival favourite and Oscar-winner discussed his working methods, filmmaking style, casting decisions and his next film, starring Berenice Bejo and Tahar Rahim.

Farhadi told a rapt audience that he began his directing career aged 13, before studying theatre at university: “Despite realising that I wanted to make films instead of theatre, I’m glad I started there,” Farhadi said. “I learnt about drama and tragedy through the theatre.”

Farhadi said that at university and soon after he watched Ingmar Bergman and Krzysztof Kieslowski films, but that he was particularly inspired by Italian directors such as Vittorio de Sica and Federico Fellini.

Asked about how he prepares for a film, Farhadi said he wasn’t sure where ideas came from at times, but when they did arrive he would pursue them rigorously: “It’s very hard to know how ideas come to you. Initially, I take time to think about a project but when I start writing I write from morning until night. I spent eight months writing About Elly, for example.”

Farhadi’s filmmaking is often praised for is its impartiality. He discussed this in response to a question about whether A Separation is an indictment of Iranian society: “I can’t tell you what to make of the film. It is up to you to decide what it is. But this isn’t a symbolic film, it’s a realistic film [in style]”.

That impartiality is also apparent in his camera-work: “I want to pretend that there is no camera. So, the camera only moves when people move. It only follows the actors. In A Separation the camera becomes an afterthought. It doesn’t make judgments. The camera should be fair with each actor.”

The director has always hoped for as much subtly from his audience as there is in his films: “It’s important when watching a film set in a country that we don’t think the film represents the whole country. In Iran there are 70 million people. My film is not necessarily the whole picture: there are different classes, different mentalities, many differences”.

One audience member said he thought A Separation was a very sad film and asked whether this was intentional: “I don’t know why it is the case,” the director replied. “I’ve always written like this. I think it’s reflective of my personality. I wish I could change. But at the same time, if on first viewing the film seems sad, what is important is that after the film you think about it and can find answers.”

Farhadi has always been capable of eliciting stunning and moving performances from his actors, but he also has a great eye for non-professional talent. Farhadi’s own daughter plays the daughter in A Separation, and Peyman Moadi, the brilliant male lead in the film and a supporting actor in About Elly, was Farhadi’s neighbour whom he met at a party: “When I met him I knew he was an actor,” he said.

The director is now in pre-production on his next film, the untitled Paris-set drama produced by Memento Films starring Berenice Bejo, Tahar Rahim and “a very good Iranian male actor”: “We have been in rehearsals for two months now. I have been meeting at least twice a week with Berenice and Tahar.”

Despite a cast than he is used to, Farhadi won’t stray too far from his hugely admired and successful formula: “I will make the film in my own style”, he said. “I still have an Iranian actor in one of the main roles and the crew is part-Iranian. Now that we are only two or three weeks away from the shoot I have a very good feeling about it”.