A Separation draws large audiences in Israel as director Asghar Farhadi’s Oscars acceptance speech airs on Iranian state TV
When Oscar-winning Iranian film-maker Asghar Farhadi spoke of the importance of recognising his country’s glorious and essentially peaceful culture at a time of “war, intimidation and aggression” he might have wondered if anyone in Israel was listening. At the very least, film buffs in the Jewish nation seem to have got the message, because they are turning out in large numbers to watch Farhadi’s best foreign film Academy Award winner A Separation at cinemas.
The film’s fledgling box-office success in a country whose leaders are currently considering a pre-emptive strike on Iranian nuclear facilities is all the more remarkable because A Separation was up against Israeli drama Footnote, a Talmudic scholar saga from film-maker Joseph Cedar. The film is being shown mostly at the seven Israeli sites owned by Lev Cinemas, whose CEO Guy Shani said all screenings were sold out on Friday and Saturday. “We are being helped a lot by the press in Israel,” Shani told the Associated Press, adding that the threat of war between the two countries had helped to draw viewers.
Yair Raveh, a leading Israeli film critic who writes for the Pnai Plus entertainment magazine, said his countrymen were often surprised to note that Iranians did not seem all that different from themselves. “It’s very well acted, exceptionally well written and very moving,” he said of the film. “Ultimately you don’t think about nuclear bombs or dictators threatening world peace. You see them driving cars and going to movies and they look exactly like us.”
A Separation centres on the imminent divorce of an upper-middle-class Iranian couple, one of whom wishes to emigrate due to the prevailing political conditions. Filmgoer Rina Brick, 70, said she was surprised to see that the Iranian bureaucrats portrayed in the film did not behave very differently to those in Israel.
“Our image of how Iran works is less democratic than we see here,” she said. “The judge, the police, everyone behaves as if they are in a western country.” Rivka Cohen, who left Iran at age 15 and is now 78, said she was surprised to note that “everyone had a fridge and a washing machine”.
Israeli officials are eyeing a strike at Iran’s nuclear facilities because the country is refusing to co-operate with a UN investigation into evidence that its scientists may have worked on designing a nuclear bomb. Tehran says its uranium enrichment program is for peaceful purposes and has warned its rival against mounting an attack.
Clips of Farhadi’s acceptance speech were aired on Iranian state TV yesterday and the country’s political leadership hailed the nation’s first Oscar-winning film as a triumph over Israel, despite conservative figures close to the regime having previously criticised the film for insulting the Islamic republic. Hardliners have been concerned over the film’s depiction of domestic turmoil, gender inequality and the desire of many Iranians to leave the country. In a programme broadcast in state-run television, writer Masoud Ferasati said: “The image of our society that A Separation depicts is the dirty picture westerners are wishing for.”
from Ben Child