Taraneh Alidoosti (L) Shahab Hosseini (R) in The Salesman, a film by Asghar Farhadi. Photo Cohen Media Group
Taraneh Alidoosti (L) Shahab Hosseini (R) in The Salesman, a film by Asghar Farhadi. Photo Cohen Media Group

Asghar Farhadi, the Oscar-winning Iranian director, is one of the best known names in world cinema. His films offer keen observations of Iranian society like no other.

Farhadi’s The Salesman, which won the Academy Award for best foreign language film on Sunday, also won two awards at Cannes last year. He boycotted the awards on Sunday in response to Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration, criticising the “inhuman ban” that tries to divide “our world into us and them categories.”

Born in 1972, Farhadi started his career as a screenwriter before making his directorial debut in Dancing in the Dust. He gained worldwide recognition for A Separation, a drama about a couple’s marital conflict.

1. Low Heights (2002)

Farhadi co-wrote the hit dark comedy/adventure about a man trying to hijack a plane to leave Iran with his extended family. Filled with unexpected twists, the film starts with the director’s theme of Iranians trying to exit the country.

Where to watch: Available on Amazon.

2. Dancing in the Dust

Farhadi’s debut film follows a (loud) young Azerbaijani emigrant and a (quiet) old man catching poisonous snakes in the desert. Nazar, the Azerbaijani, forced to divorce his new bride following pressure from his family, met the old man while he was on the run from creditors because he decided to pay his ex-wife’s share of the wedding debt. A rewarding film about love and sacrifice. The snakes are scary, too.

Where to watch: Not on DVD so hopefully at a local Iranian/Farhadi festival special.

3. About Elly

The film that launched Farhadi into the festival circuit’s consciousness. A group of college-educated friends and their kids go on a weekend holiday. A kindergarten teacher named Elly joined them at the last minute. Deep, intense and rich with symbolism, the psychological drama uses Elly’s mysterious disappearance to explore middle-class Iranians’ anxieties. Winner of the Silver Bear for best director at the Berlin film festival in 2009.

Where to watch: iTunes, Netflix  and Vudu.

4. A Separation

Winner of the 2012 Oscar for best foreign language film and the Golden Bear in 2011, the family drama is about a couple on the verge of divorce because the wife, Simin, wants to leave Iran, but the husband, Nader, wants to take care of his father with Alzheimer’s disease. Nader later hires a helper and but his father goes missing under the helper’s watch. Tensions ensue. The dialogue between the characters include some of the keenest observations on modernity, religion and class in Iranian society. It continues on the director’s consistent theme of Iranians trying to escape from their country. One of the best endings in recent cinema.

Where to watch: Amazon, Vudu, iTunes 

5. The Salesman

Farhadi’s most recent Oscar winner is a marital drama that follows on from A Separation, touching on the classic Arthur Miller play, Death of a Salesman. Emad and Rana are a childless couple who must move from their apartment in Tehran. They are also theater actors who are the lead characters in a staging of the Miller classic in Iran, and later moved into a new apartment vacated by a single mother with a child. Rana is attacked by a mysterious assailant. Like Farhadi’s other films, it is the couple’s reactions after the incident that is more important. A sobering take on women in Iranian society and vengeance in the absence of authority.

Where to watch: Amazon and your local indie theater

Read more on Iranian film history and how Iranian directors defy censorship