Iran lauds Oscar triumph despite protest links

Najmeh Bozorgmehr

The Islamic regime in Tehran has welcomed the country's first Oscar win for A Separation in the best foreign-language category, even though the opposition regards the film as an anti-government protest.

State television in Iran repeatedly broadcast the news, with footage from the 84th Academy Awards where Asghar Farhadi, the film's director, received the prize.

Javad Shamaghdari, an official for cinema affairs at Iran's culture ministry, said the Oscar, which follows the film's pioneering success in the same category in the Golden Globes last month, would open "a new chapter" for Iranian cinema whose "taste is further sweetened". Yet he tried to gain political leverage from the prize. "The Americans bowed vis--vis Iranian culture while the voters of the academy reacted differently compared to the Zionist lobby which is beating the drums of war."

A Separation was widely shown in Iran last year after winning five awards at the Fajr film festival, the country's biggest. Its combined domestic and foreign distribution has made it the best-selling film in the history of Iranian cinema, grossing $10m.

The film is about a Tehran couple who are forced to live apart and reflects how divorce in contemporary Iranian society is entangled in contradictions involving tradition, religious belief and morality.

It was particularly well received by Iran's educated classes, who form the majority of the pro-democracy Green Movement. They encouraged its box-office success last year as a protest against the regime and its sponsored movie, The Outcasts III, which ridiculed opposition demands for fair elections.

More than 50 political prisoners yesterday issued a statement welcoming the award, which they said "shows an honest image of life in today's Iran... and has echoed a message of peace in the world" at a time that Iran's "current rulers project a harsh and sullen face of our people internationally".

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