Director Asghar Farhadi Interview: Everybody Knows

The film, Everybody Knows, follows Laura (Penélope Cruz) on her travels from Argentina to her small home town in Spain for her sister’s wedding, bringing her two children along for the occasion. Amid the joyful reunion and festivities, the eldest daughter is abducted. In the tense days that follow, various family and community tensions surface and deeply hidden secrets are revealed

Everybody Knows is the newest film from Iranian writer/director Asghar Farhadi. Farhadi gained international acclaim for his films A Separation (2012) and The Salesmen (2016), both of which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in their respected year. In his latest film, Farhadi teams with Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem in his first Spanish language film.

Screen Rant had the chance to interview Asghar Farhadi. We discuss his writing process, what he learns from making a film in another country and language and what was it like to direct the famous couple.

Screen Rant: I’ve read that the film’s inspiration came from a trip you had with your family 15 years ago, when your daughter saw a photo of a girl was missing from a kidnapping. This film has been with you for some time, when did you feel you were ready to make this your next film?

Asghar Fahardi: It was only five years ago that it came to me, the potential interesting story for a film. At the moment it happened, I didn’t think at all that it was a trigger for a script, and it was only five years ago when I thought of it. Not that the incident itself had anything very new or interesting; the story of kidnapping or child disappearances is something that has been dealt with very often in literature or in film. But it was the idea of giving a new approach and new look to this kind of event that I found interesting or challenging.

Screen Rant: You have said before, and feel free to correct me if I’m too off, that you come up with the story for a film when you want to share this feeling or image to an audience. What was the feeling or the image you had for Everybody Knows?

Asghar Fahardi: It is always something that comes to you, and you feel that you have to create it so that you can share it with others or open it to an audience. And it’s not always some specific images or a specific idea, but here the idea that I felt was a parallel story. What I found interesting was a parallel between a girl and her father, who happens not to be her biological father, but who is the man that raised her. And at the same time, in parallel, the story of a piece of land on which a man who was not the original owner of the land worked on it. And so this piece of land having to be sacrificed in order to save the girl, that was the story or the first idea that I tried to develop for the script.

Screen Rant: Talk about the process of writing the film. Did you do a lot of research to tell the story?

Asghar Fahardi: Yes, very much so. Research is a very important part of the process, especially when you work in a country and in a language that is not yours. When you come into a new country, you really need to research to try and understand the location, understand the people, understand the story that you are about to write. So it’s not just about traveling to different places and scouting locations, it’s also about meeting people and getting to know them and letting the story find its shape according to the context in which you are creating it. So I went through this process, it was a very long one, but it’s also research that helped me change my story and adapt it to the place where it was going to take place.

Screen Rant: This film was shot in Spain with a Spanish cast. Spanish is not your native language. Your film The Pact was another made in a different language. What do you enjoy about the challenge of making films in different languages?

Asghar Fahardi: It’s the best way for me to get to know a country, a culture, a people. There’s no comparison. When you travel abroad and you stay in the country and visit, it has nothing to do with the experience of actually making a film there. You get to know more than a hundred people that get involved in the project and the process of creating with you and, although you spend only two years for this process, it’s like you had spent two decades because it’s so involved. You develop such close relationships, and it’s the best way to get to know the everyday life and the depth of the culture that you are dealing with. So I do it just to broaden my own experience and my own passion and curiosity for other countries, other cultures and other histories. Not that I want to do this all the time, I think I’ll go on making the majority of my films in Iran, but I always find it very interesting and challenging to go and see what the process is like in other cultures.

There was also not only my personal benefit from it, there is another aspect for the audience. Everywhere in the world there are some people that think others from different cultures are very different, that they have nothing to do with you. When you make a film like this, when you make people all over the world feel empathy for characters that apparently come from a different culture or language, and they see that they feel the way they feel and they suffer the way they suffer and they feel joyful the way they feel joyful, they realize that we’re all the same. It’s a good way to make people realize that human experience is universal.

Screen Rant: How did Javier Bardem (Paco in the film) and Penelope Cruz (Laura) get involved with the film?

Asghar Fahardi: It was five years ago when it all began. I had only written a few pages of a treatment, but I contacted them to meet in Madrid. Since the beginning, they were very enthusiastic and very much involved. I must say that at every stage of the writing and the preparation, I would get in touch with them and share all my feelings and the evolution of the characters and the story with them. They really helped me a lot, it was a true collaboration. They were much more involved than the average actor in general.

Screen Rant: With Javier and Penelope being a couple in real life, how was it directing them in this, especially since they are playing characters whose relationship has ended years ago?

Asghar Fahardi: On the set I was quite impressed by how professional they were. Meaning that as soon as they came on the set, they would really behave as if they had nothing to do with each other. Each of them did their own part, as if they were just two actors who knew each other without being a couple. It was quite impressive to see the kind of limit they were able to create on set, and then as soon as the filming was done they were a couple again. So it was very interesting to see how professional they were and how they shared this working experience together. But that’s from my point of view as a director. I found it interesting for the audience, because I know that because the audience has this knowledge of them being a couple, it makes the past love story between very acceptable. Not only believable, but something they can appreciate.

Screen Rant: The film has been referred to as a thriller by some folks. Do you see this movie as a thriller?

Asghar Fahardi: I think there are several layers. There is the first layer of the film that is a thriller - though not necessarily in the meaning of a detective story or a film trying to surprise and confuse the viewer - but this aspect is just a pretext to plunge into the path of my characters. That’s where the interest lies, in the path and the secret and the mystery of the characters. So there is this first layer, this general aspect, but if someone is really search for a thriller, they would not find it here. And it was not my intention to make a thriller for the sake of making one.

Screen Rant: Do you have any interest in making another film in Spain, now that you’ve gotten an idea of what it’s like to make a movie there?

Asghar Fahardi: Yes, of course. If I want some day to make another film outside of Iran, Spain would be at the top of my favorite countries because I really enjoyed my experience. I’m curious to get to know the people and the culture even better. It’s possible, and I would really like to make another film in Spain someday.

More: Penelope Cruz Everybody Knows Interview

Everybody Knows is now playing in select theaters.

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