Saturday, February 11, 2012

And the Oscar for Best Picture goes to ... Iran

In a piece in The New Republic, "How Iran Produced the Best Film of 2011 — and What Americans Can Learn From It," the always worthwhile David Thomson persuasively asserts that the Iranian film A Separation, written and directed by Asghar Farhadi...
...seems to me the best film of 2011. It is one of the Academy Award nominees for Best Foreign Picture, but by any sense of justice in any nation (let alone the self-assessed greatest in the world) it would have been nominated for Best Picture before anything else.

Says Thomson:
The ways in which the characters in A Separation struggle for truth and honor, while yielding sometimes to compromise and falsehood, is not foreign to us. Few other films made last year give such a striking sense of, "Look—isn't this life? Isn't this our life, too?" In a complete world of film-going, we should no longer tolerate the label "foreign film," especially since it seems likely that a film from France in which the French language remains tactfully silent is going to stroll away with Best Picture. The Artist is a pleasant soufflé, over which older Academy voters can wax nostalgic. But A Separation is what the cinema was invented for.

Roger Ebert, praising the film, spoke with its director, Asghar Farhadi, who's also Oscar nominated for his original screenplay. Farhadi noted the often fraught state of world-audience filmmaking in his home country:
Mostly people have liked the movie. It has had a large audience and fortunately has evoked a lot of discussion, which is exactly what I hoped would happen. Seeing people gather in little groups after each screening to discuss the film: That's exactly what I wanted, and gives me a nice feeling. It was also well received by the critics in Iran. But the official reaction was mixed. Being cautious towards commenting on the film was the common thing in all their reactions. Officials are used to judge the film and the film-maker together. And they know that we don't agree on a lot of subjects. Well, let's just say that they can't make any comment without reservation. We have a proverb in Iran: 'a hit on the nail, a hit on the horseshoe'.

Citing a piece in The Guardian about that "official reaction" backlash in Iran following the film's success in the West, Anthony Kaufman at Indiewire suggests that the success of A Separation puts a critical finger not only on the movie, but also on "Iran's often complex relationship with its artists" and the regime's "highly nervous" reaction to how the country is represented to the world:
At a time when relations between Iran and the West couldn't be more contentious, you'd think a good work of art could help break down some walls between them. But no government--not in the U.S. either, I should add--likes to let someone else come along and make bridges without their approval. It takes away their power. And I think that's one of the reasons why the film isn't being universally accepted at home. Success spoils the government's ability to censor and control. 

(Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan.)