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“A Separation” holds a place of significance in Iran. It represents the nation’s first Best Foreign Language Film Oscar win and greatest box office success (over $10 million in international sales). It nearly failed to see the light of day and has been subject to multiple politically motivated interpretations.
The Iranian Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance placed a ban on “A Separation” while it was still in production following director Asghar Farhadi’s comments at the 2010 Iran Cinema Celebration criticizing the Iranian cultural policy for singling out and censuring some of the country’s most prominent filmmakers. The film's production license was eventually reinstated, however, allowing Farhadi to complete his film.
“A Separation” was originally interpreted as a protest against the current regime and yet has since been co-opted by said regime as a jewel in Iran’s geopolitical crown. According to Payvand Iran News, Fars news agency, which is referred to as “False News” by some and is reportedly connected to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), misquoted Farhadi’s Oscar speech in an article that linked the director to the current nuclear crisis.
Fars printed the following as an excerpt from the acceptance speech:
"I proudly offer this award to the people of my country who, despite all the tensions and hostility of recent months between Iran and the West over Iran’s nuclear program, respect all cultures and civilizations."
Farhadi, in fact, never mentioned the nuclear program in his speech. Here is the actual quote:
"I proudly offer this award to the people of my country, the people who respect all cultures and civilizations and despise hostility and resentment. Thank you so much."
Meanwhile, The Indian Express reports that Javad Shamaghdari, an official from Iran’s cultural ministry, had the following to say in reference to “A Separation”’s Oscar win:
“The Americans bowed vis-à-vis Iranian culture, the voters of the academy reacted differently compared to the Zionist lobby which is beating the drums of war.”
Each instance represents an attempt to use the film's notoriety as a platform to push the idea of the legitimacy of Iran’s current nuclear agenda.
Amidst the political game of chess that the various parties are playing with the film, “A Separation” star Peyman Moaadi has released a public letter to Farhadi acknowledging the film’s global and national significance, denying the claim certain organizations have made on it and celebrating the director’s achievement. “A certain group is trying to make a connection between the film’s success and politics on imaginary grounds,” he writes. “This is enough motivation for me to write and publish this letter.”
The actor also highlights key moments throughout the awards season in the letter: Woody Allen expressing his surprise at the depths to which "A Separation" impacted him and requesting a meeting with Farhadi to discuss the film at length; Angelina Jolie and Meryl Streep each indicating a desire to work with the director; Steven Spielberg saying he believed that “A Separation” would be the best film of the year by a wide margin; Bob Dylan, David Fincher, Francis Ford Coppola and a plethora of cinema’s most revered creators relaying felicitations and demonstrating profound respect for the film.
The politics are a factor, the celebrity attention is both beneficial and, likely, a thrill, but it is the universal nature of the story that “A Separation” tells that is, in some ways, most extraordinary. It inspires us to move beyond the limits of our perception into the sometimes more uncomfortable reality of just how closely connected and alike we truly are.
In his letter, Moaadi reminds us of how his director simultaneously corrected some exaggerated perceptions of Iran and emphasized our interconnectivity at the Golden Globes press conference. “You said, ‘I don’t want to say that filmmaking conditions are ideal in my country, but the image you have of filmmaking in Iran is also not accurate,’" Moaadi writes. "Another thing you said which elicited the audience’s applause was when you pointed out that differences among people in various parts of the world were much fewer than their similarities, and that it was more to the benefit of politics to exaggerate differences and gaps and put more emphasis on them.”
Though we may understand on an intellectual level that, despite the appearance of a cultural divide, our human desires and needs are fundamentally alike, our commonality doesn’t always seep into our emotional responses. I recall speaking with a woman in the West Bank who had lost three sons in different conflicts. At one point she turned to me with a look of contemplation on her face. “You’re American?” she asked. “I thought all Americans were just machines with no hearts.”
I can still feel my sadness at her assessment. I understood. Contact is essential to understanding and the heartbreak she had been forced to endure would harden anyone to some degree. Still, I felt a sense of powerless remorse that she had come to see me, my family and my country in such one-dimensional terms. In truth, there are those that consider themselves egalitarian humanitarians who speak about others, just across the political aisle, with hatred and violence, though.
If “A Separation” is to be read as a political allegory it is one that expresses the idea that in most (though not all) circumstances where there are oppositional sides, each “side” and each player is flawed, imperfect and often blinded, if not crippled, by his or her own motivations.
Aside from the larger themes that are present, and indeed the film does subtly illuminate some of the dynamics in Iran’s social realms, "A Separation" also presents a portrait of a couple, Nadir and Simin, that is as vulnerable and stubborn as any, anywhere in the world. The intimate connections depicted in the film are as relatable as the broader ideas.
Making a right-versus-wrong assessment should be as painstaking for us as choosing between her parents is for Nadir and Simin’s daughter, Termeh. The child's awakening to her father’s limitations is one we each must go through with our own parents, our nations or political affiliations and, ultimately, ourselves.
“A visual error of us humans is that when we see something from close range, we do not generally appreciate its grandeur,” Moaadi writes to open his letter. It is lovely, and to be admired, that he took the time to ensure that this moment did not pass without a demonstration of his gratitude for Farhadi’s work and, indeed, its grandeur.
For year-round entertainment news and commentary follow @JRothC on Twitter.
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