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Iranian 'A Separation' wins best foreign Oscar

In a humble speech amid tense times, Asghar Farhadi accepted Iran's first Oscar for best foreign film as a chance to celebrate a culture "hidden under the heavy dust of politics."
/ Source: The Associated Press

In a humble speech amid tense times, Asghar Farhadi accepted Iran's first Oscar for best foreign film as a chance to celebrate a culture "hidden under the heavy dust of politics."

It was a stirring reminder, instantly hailed at the Los Angeles ceremony and around the globe, of the human side behind rising geopolitical animosity.

The acclaimed domestic drama "A Separation" is the first Iranian film to win the award. The only other Iranian movie ever nominated was 1997's "Children of Heaven," which was defeated by Italy's "Life Is Beautiful."

Farhadi, who wrote and directed "A Separation," alluded to the tensions over his home country in his acceptance speech.

"At the time when talk of war, intimidation, and aggression is exchanged between politicians, the name of their country, Iran, is spoken here through her glorious culture, a rich and ancient culture that has been hidden under the heavy dust of politics," he said.

With his daughter, Sarina Farhadi, who co-stars in the film, looking on from the audience, Farhadi added: "I proudly offer this award to the people of my country, the people who respect all cultures and civilizations and despise hostility and resentment."

Tensions between the West and Iran have risen in recent months over Tehran's nuclear program. Iran denies Western claims that it seeks to develop atomic weapons, and says its disputed nuclear program is designed to produce energy and medical isotopes.

Iran's state TV didn't strike such a harmonious tone. It described the country's foreign film Oscar win as a victory over Israel. The Israeli film "Footnote," about a rivalry between father-son Talmudic scholars, was also nominated in the foreign film category.

The Monday state TV broadcast in Iran said the award won by "The Separation" succeeded in "leaving behind" a film from the "Zionist regime," a reference to the country's arch-foe Israel.

Iranian cinema has for years been among the most exciting in the world, notably including the films of Abbas Kiarostami and Majid Majidi.

Farhadi's film was so roundly supported by the academy that it was also nominated for a best screenplay Oscar — a rarity for a foreign film. It also won best foreign film at the Golden Globes.

Though "A Separation," made under Iranian sensors, isn't overly political, it deeply explores the complex social and religious codes of contemporary Iranian society. The film begins with the divorce dispute between a husband (Peyman Moadi) and wife (Leila Hatami), a situation that becomes far thornier when an argument leads to criminal charges.

Farhadi said he thought the Oscar nomination for "A Separation" pleased some in the Iranian government and not others: "The Iranian government is not unanimous at all," he said.

This year's Oscars took on a broadly international flavor, particularly given that the best picture winner, "The Artist," is in most ways a French film, made by a French director (Michael Hazanavicius, who won best director) and starring a French actor (Jean Dujardin, who won best actor).

The Mexican actor Demian Bichir was also nominated for best actor for his performance in the immigrant drama "A Better Life," and the Spanish film "Chico and Rita" was nominated for best animated film.

In all, 63 films were submitted for this year's foreign language film category, a nomination process that has often been criticized for leaving out critical favorites. In recent years, an executive committee was added to the multi-step process, which can add movies to those selected by the judging body.

Few founded major fault with this year's selections, though there were quibbles over the absence of the Turkish film "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia," the Finnish submission "Le Havre" and Pedro Almodovar's "The Skin I Live In," which Spain opted not to submit.

The other nominees, aside from "Footnote," were Michael R. Roskam's crime drama "Bullhead" from Belgium; Philippe Falardeau's immigrant substitute teacher tale "Monsieur Lazhar" from Canada; and Agnieszka Holland's World War II drama "In Darkness" from Poland.

Backstage on Sunday, Farhadi said he hoped "A Separation" helps moviegoers see the people of Iran in a different light:

"If people around the world try to find the image of one another through the prism of culture, I believe that image would be a more a more real and a more clear image."