|Posted by Mark Cantrell on February 19, 2017 at 1:05 PM|
Iranian director’s UK movie premiere is a snub to Brexit and Trump alike
Movie premieres are not usually political affairs, but the screening of an Oscar-nominated feature film by Iranian director Asghar Farhadi in London next week is clearly waving a two-fingered salute at President Trump in the wake of his travel ban – and there’s a singular middle finger aimed at Brexiteer Britain too
By Mark Cantrell
COME Sunday, 26 February, the movie-going crowds are expected to gather in London’s Trafalgar Square for the UK premiere of The Salesman, by the Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, but the event symbolises rather more than an appreciation of the cinematic art – it represents something of a gesture of dissent too.
In a way, then, it’s as much a protest rally as it is a movie premiere. The free event was organised by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, in the wake of President Trump’s controversial travel ban, which barred people from seven predominantly Muslim countries – including Iran – from entering the United States.
The ban caused chaos and anguish for thousands of travellers, many with a previously undisputed right to enter the US – including those who have lived and worked in the country for years. It also hit some unlikely visitors, such as the former prime minister of Norway, Kjell Magne Bondevik, who was detained and questioned at Dulles airport earlier this month – because his diplomatic passport showed he had visited Iran in 2014.
As an Iranian national, of course, Farhadi is subject to the possibility of being barred entry to the US, effectively on the whim of its president. US judges have since suspended the ban, provoking Trump’s ire but also his threat to sign a new version into effect sometime in the coming days and weeks, which means those likely affected still face a limbo of uncertainty.
Towards the end of January, the award-winning director announced he was reluctantly boycotting this month’s Oscar’s in solidarity with those affected by Trump’s ban, regardless of whether he himself might be granted special dispensation by the US government to enter the country in order to attend the ceremony.
“Hard-liners, despite their nationalities, political arguments and wars, regard and understand the world in very much the same way,” Farhadi said in his statement, reported in the New York Times (29 January 2017, where the statement is quoted in full). “In order to understand the world, they have no choice but to regard it via an ‘us and them’ mentality, which they use to create a fearful image of ‘them’ and inflict fear in the people of their own countries.
“This is not just limited to the United States; in my country hardliners are the same. For years on both sides of the ocean, groups of hardliners have tried to present to their people unrealistic and fearful images of various nations and cultures in order to turn their differences into disagreements, their disagreements into enmities and their enmities into fears. Instilling fear in the people is an important tool used to justify extremist and fanatic behaviour by narrow-minded individuals.”
The Salesman, which stars Shahab Hosseini and Taraneh Alidoosti in the lead roles of Emad and Rana, is a critically acclaimed movie. It won Best Screenplay at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival while Hosseini won Best Actor. The film has been nominated in the Best Foreign Film category at next week’s Oscar’s.
The movie’s open-air screening at Trafalgar Square (see details below) has been organised by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, with the assistance of actor Lily Cole, producer Kate Wilson, and filmmaker and writer Mark Donne, to foster a spirit of cultural diversity and to reject the kind of narrow-mindedness and division Farhadi alludes to.
The date was picked to coincide with the 89th Academy Awards in Hollywood, with the film shown just hours ahead of this year’s Oscars being handed out (at midnight GMT).
“Screening The Salesman in Trafalgar Square has a great symbolic value for me,” said Farhadi. “The gathering of the audience around The Salesman in this famous London square is a symbol of unity against the division and separation of people. I offer my warmest thanks to the Mayor of London and the cinema community for this generous initiative. I welcome and appreciate this invaluable show of solidarity.”
Cole added: "Having grown up in London I have always loved the multiculturalism and openness of this city. I am very heartened that the Mayor of London – and our film community – have stepped up to celebrate that openness and diversity at such a critical political moment. It’s an important and positive signal to send. I look forward to watching Asghar’s film and hope you will join us.”
Donne said: “When I first had the idea for the screening, it was as a filmmaker, a Londoner and an individual who cherishes living in an incredibly diverse, open community. To have this event hosted by the Mayor of a city that’s globally synonymous with all of those things is pretty amazing. Asghar Farhadi is an incredible storyteller. I hope his work showing in this city, at this moment, sends a tremendous international signal of unity and tolerance."
Khan, of course, isn’t missing the opportunity to plug London to the world. The premiere is as much about declaring ‘business as usual’ for the capital as a world city in the wake of Brexit, as it is a chance to declare solidarity with the people impacted by the prejudice denoted in President Trump’s travel ban. London is open, the Mayor is saying; as much to reassure an international audience as a domestic one.
As City Hall points out: “Since the start of his Mayoralty, Sadiq Khan has led Londoners from across the worlds of film, dance, theatre, music, art, sport, retail and even the animal kingdom to say loud and clear that, post-EU referendum, London is open to the world.”
Khan, himself, added: “On the night of the Oscars, it’s absolutely fantastic to be able to screen the UK premiere of The Salesman in Trafalgar Square. I’m delighted to welcome people from across the capital and beyond to share in this celebration of London as an international hub of creativity and as a beacon of diversity.
“Londoners have always prided themselves on their openness to the world, and what better way to do that than to come together to watch this powerful film in one of the world’s most famous public spaces.”
Before the film starts, though, the audience, which is expected to be some 10,000-strong, will hear speeches and readings from some of London’s high-profile actors and directors, including the award-winning director, Mike Leigh; well, it does have an aspect of the rally about it, after all.
“It is to the Mayor of London's tremendous credit that he is hosting this special premiere screening of The Salesman in Trafalgar Square, said Leigh. “My friend Asghar Farhadi, whom I have known since we served together on the jury of the 2012 Berlin Film Festival, is one of the world's greatest film makers.
“For those of us who make movies about real life, real people and real issues, he is the master – a true inspiration to all of us. The Salesman is compelling, moving and entertaining, and I urge everybody in our capital to come and enjoy it in Trafalgar Square. We must show solidarity with Asghar and his principles, and against divisiveness and hate.”
Indeed. Let’s make hatred a no show, wherever we happen to be.
The screening of The Salesman begins at 4.30pm in London’s Trafalgar Square and will end at 6.35pm. ‘Doors’ open at 3pm. People are advised to wrap up warm on the day, and to arrive early to grab their spot, as places are offered on a first-come-first served basis.
For those unable to make it to Trafalgar Square, distributor Curzon Artificial Eye said it will be organising screenings of The Salesman across the country on the 26 February. For more information, visit: www.thesalesmanfilm.co.uk.
FREE – first come, first served. Arrive early to grab a spot, the organisers advise
Trafalgar Square, London. Doors open at 3pm. Speeches from 4pm. Screening from 4.30pm (2hrs 5mins)
Blurb: Oscar winner Asghar Farhadi (A Separation) returns with The Salesman, a characteristically taut drama exploring how unexpected cracks can form in the foundations of a seemingly happy marriage.
The future looks promising for amateur actors Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) as they prepare for opening night on their production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman.
However, when dangerous work on a neighbouring building forces the couple to leave their home and move into a new apartment, a case of mistaken identity sees a shocking and violent incident throw their lives into turmoil.
What follows is a series of wrong turns that threaten to destroy their relationship irreparably. Winner of the Best Screenplay and Best Actor awards at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival and nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Oscars, Farhadi’s study on the potent power of pride, guilt and shame treads the line between arresting drama and revenge thriller with masterful ease.
Watch the UK trailer over on YouTube.
Images courtesy of Curzon Artificial Eye