The Iranian government sounded a note of caution on Tuesday about the success of “A Separation,” which won a Golden Globe for best foreign film, saying gritty realist films favored by critics showed a skewed version of the Islamic republic.
While Iranian movie fans were thrilled to see director Asghar Farhadi receive the award from Madonna in a ceremony in Los Angeles on Sunday, the Tehran government, which keeps a tight control on movie output, has shown less enthusiasm.
“You have always got to look at these festivals tactfully,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said when asked to comment on the movie which has also won the Berlin Film Festival’s Golden Bear and is tipped for an Oscar.
“Sometimes we see those who run these festivals grant precious awards to films whose main theme is centered on the poverty and hardships of a country’s people.
“This should not lead our artists to ignore the glaring positive points and features of our nation and instead illustrate the kind of things welcomed by such festivals’ organizers.”
The film recounts the story of a couple estranged because of differences over whether to leave Iran, who become embroiled in a nasty dispute with a domestic worker. The tale builds smartly to become an engrossing look at the societal pressures ensnaring all the protagonists as they navigate a minefield of lies.
The emotional story of the marriage break-up won over audiences with its natural dialogue and dramatic treatment of themes of loyalty, class and family, scoring 100 percent from critics on U.S. website Rotten Tomatoes and 94 percent from viewers.
Iran’s government initially slapped a ban on the movie as it was being made because Farhadi voiced support for fellow filmmakers labeled by authorities as “anti-regime.”
The added exposure from U.S. awards juries comes as relations between the United States and Iran are severely strained, with Iran saying it could close a major oil shipping lane if new sanctions block its crude exports ̶ something that would likely lead to a military stand-off.
“I just prefer to say something about my people. I think they are a truly peace-loving people,” Farhadi said in an acceptance speech that pointedly lacked any overtly political message.
Avoiding the faux pas of Iran’s best known film maker Abbas Kiarostami who was kissed by Catherine Deneuve when accepting the 1997 Palme d’Or at Cannes, Farhadi did not even shake hands with Madonna, conforming with Iranian law that bans contact between unmarried men and women.
Pride and prejudice
Javad Shamaghdari, Deputy Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance of Iran, congratulated Farhadi for the win, saying his movie had overcome anti-Iranian prejudice. “Wise judgment has put his movie on the podium of the chosen ones,” he said in a statement carried by the ILNA news agency.
The movie’s growing international profile is likely to renew concerns for film makers in Iran where scripts have to be submitted to Shamaghdari’s ministry for approval and several high-profile directors have been arrested, jailed or banned.
A Separation is seen to be a frontrunner for the best foreign-language Oscar at the U.S. Academy Awards on February 26, with critics raving about its humanity and its sharp portrayal of the Iran that exists beyond the grim news headlines.
The attention it is earning, though, is also bringing into focus the trials of the overall Iranian film industry, which has become increasingly restricted in the past three years, since the disputed 2009 re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Authorities in Iran this month dissolved the country's main film industry guild, the House of Cinema, despite an outcry from several renowned Iranian directors.
The decision came after the government felt the guild was politicizing certain events, such as allowing filmmakers to express critical views of the regime at its annual festival. The official reason given was that the House of Cinema had changed its founding statutes without consulting authorities.
Farhadi has voiced support for his colleagues in the guild, who are trying to have the dissolution reversed.
The row has added to other difficulties Iran's cinema industry is encountering.
One of Iran's most famous filmmakers, Jafar Panahi, has been sentenced to jail and given a 20-year ban on making movies for a 2009 documentary he tried to film on the widespread unrest following Ahmadinejad's re-election.
Several documentary makers accused of working with the BBC, were also arrested late last year, then released.
Iranians reacted worldwide have reacted with pride to A Separation’s win of major the Golden Globe ̶ a triumph on the international stage that, for a moment, eclipsed geopolitical tensions.
Its victory lit up Iranians' messages on online social networks.
Among the thousands of messages posted online by Iranians was one that said: “I am so proud of you, it was a proud moment for all Iranians. With this event we have really upset those who closed the House of Cinema.”
A YouTube posting of the award presentation carried the message: “Too Bad this vid can’t make it all the way over there,” a reference to Iran’s strict Internet censorship which clocks access to most western news sites.
Iranians can access banned sites like YouTube and Facebook by using VPN (virtual private network) software, but even that is something that may be put at risk by government plans to create its own version of the Internet in coming weeks or months that some people fear could further isolate the country.
Few Iranian media carried reports on the win on Monday, mainly because the Golden Globes took place well after newspaper deadlines.
Minister of Communications and Information Technology Reza Taqipour told Mehr news agency that Iran would not be disconnecting itself from the Web. “This National Information Network will under no circumstances be a replacement for the Internet,” he said.