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THE PAST

Interview With Cinematographer Mahmoud Kalari
As a cinematographer, what is special about working with Asghar Farhadi?

Working with Asghar Farhadi is always a thrill because there are many unknown factors. It's a very spontaneous method of filming with a lot of last minute decisions, which are by nature hard to predict. I find that to be really exciting. Difficult, but exciting. Asghar Farhadi has one very distinct characteristic: I think he doesn't know how to make a bad film. I believe there is an important reason for that. He immerses himself in the project and lets emotion drive his decision-making. For people who are unfamiliar with his process, it can be difficult, that's for certain. But if you accept it, you find yourself constantly discovering, moving from one surprise to another.

How did you define with him what the look of this film would be?

In A SEPARATION, the camera was entirely handheld except for three still shots. But you should be aware that Mr Farhadi is capable of going back on a large part of what you had previously defined at the last minute. He does it every time. You may have discussed the style and the visual nature of the film, but you always have to be ready for him to change his mind. He does the same thing with the actors. In the last take, he may say to them to forget all of the direction and to play the part in an entirely different way. He does this often. In the beginning, this film was also meant to be all shot with a handheld camera. But very quickly, by the end of the second day, the decision was made to do still shots. The story itself and the structure of the narrative persuaded to change our method and find a new form, which we then adopted.

How does Asghar behave on set?

He rejects everything that seems artificial or conventional to him, in terms of composition, lighting, acting, everything... you can hear him saying to the actors, "Now you are acting", "That was too cinematic". He does the same thing when setting up the shot. He'd say : "It's overly composed", "the frame looks too neat", "the lighting is too perfect", "It's too beautiful, I don't want that!" Asghar Farhadi considers that a shot is just right, according to his ideas, specifically when it doesn't respect the established norms. It's sometimes difficult for his collaborators to understand this and to trust him. I believe that the more important thing for him is coherence between the global conception and, at the same time, the conception of each sequence. There are certain chapters in the story that he wanted to be static, immobile, even heavy. For others, he wanted lots of movement. Certain sequences are composed of very short shots, like the last two chapters we filmed. And there are also long shots mixed in. This can disturb the homogeneity of the global structure of the film. But I have to say that he's a master who has the artistry to control everything while assuring that the coherence and the continuity of the film remain in place.

In A SEPARATION, the characters are fleeing from one another, in The Past, they are often filmed togethe...

Indeed, in A Separation , the camera was a sort of narrator, a third eye who was telling a story. While here, the camera takes on the point of view of each character. In this film, the characters get close to each other, while still maintaining a certain distance from one another. But they are gathered together in sorts of choral sequences. And so, Asghar Farhadi has taken on the way each character views the others and the situation. And then, there was also something that my team was constantly talking about here, something they found both disconcerting and interesting: Mr Farhadi placed the actors in the most uncomfortable situations and the most complicated in terms of lighting and setting up the shot. He would place them in doorframes, which is something we avoid at all costs in the cinema. There were two light sources, which we were stuck between. These sorts of challenges are what I find so interesting about this film. Asghar Farhadi seemed to intentionally place actors in settings that hindered a classically esthetic process and a traditional way of approaching them.

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