Israelis, Iranians set aside politics at the Oscars
Directors Joseph Cedar and Asghar Farhadi both say their nominated films have personal, not national themes.
As their nations warn of war, the Israeli and Iranian directors facing off at
next week’s Academy Awards share a reluctance to see politics read into their
movies, both of which are portraits of troubled families.
director of Israel’s Footnote, and Asghar Farhadi, maker of Iran’s A Separation,
stress that their works are about human issues, not conflicted
Yet, even as the filmmakers put art before politics in
competing for the Oscar in the foreign language film category, neither man can
escape the fact that he hails from a country that is vigilant about its
portrayal at home and abroad.
Farhadi created his delicate, Golden
Globe-winning divorce drama A Separation under Iranian censors, which impose
strictures in the name of Islamic morality and national morale.
a comedy of errors about a father and son who are Talmud scholars locked in an
acidic rivalry, has been remarked upon, and welcomed, in Israel for what it
lacks – any mention of the military or regional enemies.
movie, Beaufort, also was nominated for the foreign language film Oscar, but its
depiction of Israeli troops under fire in Lebanon and the director’s anti-war
rhetoric were denounced by some of his countrymen as defeatist.
learned not to interpret my own films,” Cedar said.
But he described
Footnote as an examination of a debate central to Jewish scholarship, in an
interview with Reuters.
“The son is all about interpretation and
commentary. The father is all about fact and verifiable empiric data. And
sometimes I feel like the father, sometimes I feel like the son,” Cedar
He shied from offering a metaphor to Israel itself, where
pragmatism and ideology often clash and whose secular founding principles have
been challenged by increasingly assertive religious minorities.
“There is something about this film that has
allowed lots of audiences to see something different,” Cedar
Farhadi has been similarly reluctant to entertain theories that his
film is a parable for the struggle between Iran’s young dissidents and its
paternalistic mullahs, and he told Reuters it is up to audiences to take from
the movie what they will.
“I think in every story there are many hidden
themes and it depends on which ones you choose to highlight. I included themes
that mattered to me... and it depends on the viewer which of the themes emerge
more strongly for them.”
A Separation has earned critical acclaim around
the world at film festivals and other events with its tale of an Iranian couple
on the verge of divorce whose problems grow ever more complicated when other
people become involved in their lives.
When asked recently by The
Washington Post whether one bedridden old man weighing in on the couple’s issues
represents the state, Farhadi chided the reporter, “If you have a political
discourse about him, you are belittling this character.”
While Iran is
notorious for its film censors – award-winning director Jafar Panahi was
sentenced to jail in 2010 and banned from making films – it has remained
cautious in its remarks about A Separation.
“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,” Foreign Ministry spokesman
Ramin Mehmanparast told Reuters after A Separation won its Golden Globe Award in
“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,” he said.
acknowledged adopting a non-partisan tone to get the film made in Iran, but not
because of problems with censors.
“No, I wasn’t confronted with any
censorship,” he told Reuters. “Some countries did ask me, in order to show the
film, that I should change the film’s title from what it is right now and I
Cedar said he had briefly met Farhadi and looked forward
to seeing him again in the “cultural arena” of Hollywood’s
“Putting aside all of these geopolitical sides, it [A Separation]
is a film that really raises the level of the whole competition,” he said.