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The Iranian government continues to pull its recent Oscar-winner, Asghar Farhadi's captivating thriller A Separation, into the headlines through unfavorable means. Shortly after the incredible feature won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, the state-run TV station missed the film's point entirely, exploiting its victory to bash Israel, which was not only a shock to those who'd seen A Separation, but also an insult to the filmmaker, who's acceptance speech declared Iranians as, "a people who respect all cultures and civilizations and despise hostility and resentment." And now, The Associated Press, via The Wrap, has discovered that the Iranian government is flat-out cancelling a celebratory ceremony intended to honor the homegrown Oscar-winner and its acclaimed director.
The government has not revealed their reasoning behind the scrapping the event, which was to be held today, but those who've had the opportunity to see A Separation can easily guess the why. (Note: From here I will discuss the film's plot but will avoid spoilers in consideration of those who haven't yet seen the film.) Centered on two families—of different religious backgrounds and socio-economic statuses--A Separation reveals Iran as a place with some serious problems. The first two figures you meet in the film are Simin and Nader, a politically progressive husband and wife who are facing divorce over the decision to leave Iran or not. Simin (Leila Hatami) has finally secured visas that would allow them to emigrate and wants to move to the U.S., where their daughter will have more opportunities, but Nader (Peyman Moadi) refuses to leave his Alzheimer's-addled father behind. From here, the flaws in Iran's current legal system are explored as is the country's gender-inequality issues, but all through the view of how it affects the story's families.
It's a powerful film that's specific in its details, yet universal in its themes. And while it is critical of Iran's current societal constraints, it paints the country as a place peopled with strong women, devoted parents, and, overall, individuals trying to do the best they can within the bad situation presented (which I can't reveal lest I spoil the movie). It's about human flaws, not Iranian's flaws, something that the government may not recognize, but thankfully the artistic community of Iran has. Both the Center for Directors of Iranian Cinema and the High Council of Producers of Iranian Cinema, who'd planned to co-host the event, have denounced the government's actions here, releasing a public statement saying:
"We intended to have a simple and friendly meeting to say 'thank you' [to Farhadi] for the great achievement you brought Iran and Iranian cinema but the cultural custodians did not let us realize this…We deeply regret this."
Farhadi himself has not responded to the celebration's cancellation, which honestly may be for the best if he plans to continue making movies in Iran. The Iranian government is notorious for its oppressive censorship, ever fearful of Western influence and possible political dissent. This has at times resulted in the arrest of actors and directors, as well as some artists fleeing the country altogether. When Farhadi attended the 2011 New York Film Festival, where I saw him and A Separation, he spoke of the problems of working within the Iranian government's purview, but insisted he made films for Iranians, declaring:
"I never make a film that I cannot show in Iran. It is very important to me that my films be seen by my people."
Notably, A Separation was made without funding from the government, who initially prohibited Farhadi from making the feature because he has a history of supporting several filmmakers, who've been exiled. However, the ban was eventually lifted. When pressed for specifics on how he managed to avoid running afoul of government censors during its production, Farhadi explained that he steers clear of storytelling that is didactic and then smiled, before confessing, "and there are other ways I can't tell you about or I won't be able to use them anymore. "
He was obviously a filmmaker proud of his culture and his country who was also able to recognize its faults. And it's shameful that the Iranian government will not allow such an artist to be heralded at home as he's been lauded abroad. Sadly, it seems getting worldwide attention for A Separation may make things much harder on Farhadi and his filmmaking from here on out.