Welcome to Kalamna, the student blog of the Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at NYU.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

"A Separation" At the Oscars

There is no doubt that the Academy Award winner of the Best Foreign Language Film was both a victory and a surprise for Iranians worldwide. Asghar Farhadi's, A Separation, is a brilliantly crafted work striking a chord in all Iranians by revealing a bitterly genuine taste of daily life in Tehran. The narrative revolves around the divorce between Nader and Simin who we see in the opening scene arguing in front of a judge about their fundamental disagreement on whether to move abroad which would provide better opportunities for their daughter or remain in Iran where Nader's father is ill with Alzheimer's. In the process of their separation and a series of spiraling events, the family becomes involved in a murder case in which Nader is accused of causing the miscarriage of the woman who was hired to take care of his father.
The film is powerful on various levels; none of the characters are perfect, which gives the story a genuineness lacking in the industry. Above all, it artfully shows the strains and difficulties Iranians of all classes face and that in the country as it is today, all suffer, not only the women, but the men, the old, and the young as well. Above all, it accomplishes this without being hindered by the strong censorship that Iranian filmmakers face. While it is true that Farhadi does not directly blame the government or leaders, nevertheless the high unemployment, limited opportunities, and ineffective legal system are clearly depicted alongside the heavy weight of every character's frustration and disappointment about the conditions he/she lives in. 

In his acceptance speech, Farhadi said: "At this moment, Iranians all over the world are watching us and I imagine them to be very happy. Happy, not just because of an award or a film or a filmmaker but because at a time when talk of war, intimidation and aggression is exchanged between politicians, the name of Iran is spoken of through her glorious culture – a rich and ancient culture that has remained hidden under the heavy dust of politics. I proudly offer this award to the people of my country. A people who respect all cultures, races and civilizations and despise hostility and resentment." Though his speech focused on joy and pride, the win nevertheless left me with some unreconciled thoughts. 

It was very appropriate for Farhadi to have mentioned the unstable political climate that Iran is currently facing and in fact, while he himself has said that films are not for politicians and that he has no message for politicians, I believe that in the U.S. at least, the government and mass media (Hollywood, for example) often convey an intersection between culture and politics. My initial shock was that since Iran was also competing against an Israeli film and that Farhadi had won the Golden Globe, that they would give this more important award to Joseph Cedar's, Footnote

My initial confusion was then replaced by a cynical idea that this award by the American Academy was a message to the Iranian people about a supposed interest and care they have for Iranians serving American hope that this subconsciously would give the Iranian people the impression that the U.S. cares about them and would indirectly push the people to revolt against the regime that has inconveniently been causing the U.S. trouble for years. 

Iranian filmmakers are widely known to be some of the most talented in the world (Kiarostami or Makhmalbaf) and in recent years Iranian films have been winning awards across the globe, yet all of a sudden the Academy noticed an Iranian film the year Iran may likely be bombed and attacked by this country and its allies? 

Perhaps on the other hand, this could be a message of peace to the Iranians, who can truly know? To me there is no doubt that there is a strong political undertone to this award, however I want to make clear that this does not take anything from Farhadi's masterpiece. There is also the Iranian side of the politics in which the government has allowed the director and actors to travel to the U.S. and has called A Separation's award "a win over Israel."  While I wish the sending of the cast were a sign of subtle peace, I cannot deny that the intentions of the divided and conflicted Iranian government are not easily deciphered.  

Ultimately, whatever the motives and reasons for the award, one thing is certain for me, like Farhadi said, Iranians around the world are proud and overjoyed with this honor, yet no award will blind them to the injustices they have faced from both their own government and from the American government alike.

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