Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Separating Fact & Fiction: Does Iran Deserve the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar?
Of the 60 films submitted for next year's award, it seems almost impossible to conceive that Asghar Farhadi's Iranian divorce drama, A Separation, could lose. Cases can be made for Pina, The Flowers of War, Declaration of War, Where Do We Go Now?, In Darkness, Miss Bala and Once Upon a Time in Anatolia as high profile contenders for the nomination, but a win for Farhadi's film seems like as much an inevitability as this category is able to have. Still, if the category is all about rewarding the country itself - does Iran deserve the win the Oscar? I haven't seen A Separation to judge, but doesn't it seem hypocritical for a nation such as Iran to submit a film that they want the Academy to reward when their own industry is all about censorship and punishment of its own filmmakers?
However, in the same week that has seen two Iranian filmmakers, accused of being BBC spies, released from jail, yet another shocking case has emerged. The latest incident of Iran's disgusting tyrade against its own artists is actress Marzieh Vafamehr receiving 90 lashes and a year in jail for starring in the Iran/Australia co-production My Tehran for Sale in 2009. The film is banned in Iran - obviously - but was distributed illegally throughout the country. It received only a very minor limited release here where it won the Independent Spirit Award at the Inside Film Awards and is now widely available on DVD. The actress starred as a woman who theatre art is censored by her government and now in a scary case of art imitating life imitating art, Vefamehr will be punished for her participation in it. The film's director, Granaz Moussavi, was also arrest a while back, but quickly released. I don't recall hearing anything in the Australian media about Moussavi's arrest, which is odd considering her Australian citizenship. But, hey, maybe there was an idiot smoking pot in Indonesia that needed more attention?
Indiewire also reports on another Iranian film, Absolutely Tame is a Horse, being banned from international distribution by its home country government. It is just yet another indictment against a country that is courting an international reputation with one hand whilst stripping the undesirables of their freedom with the other. It seems unfair to lump Asghar Farhadi and his film into this, but doesn't it just seem a bit crazy for the Academy to reward a nation that so obviously has such little respect for creative freedom and its own countrymen and women? On the other hand, perhaps we really should be cheering on Fahradi's film (not just for quality reasons), for if A Separation does win and Farhadi gets the opportunity to walk up onto that big stage representing Iran he may just be able to denounce his country's actions. He would never be able to return their, but it might be a small price to pay for bringing to light these attrocious crimes against justice. Furthermore, could the film stumble before it even gets to the Kodak Theatre? What if news of Iran's filmmaker mistreatment spread across the Pacific and into the gossiping gabs of the Academy's foreign language branch? If A Separation becomes the season's year high profile snub and gets left off of the shortlist (that is eventually whittled down to the nominated five) then I think we will have to consider that it did.
What it boils down to is that there is a director, his collaborators, an actress and who knows who else sitting in Iran being punished for creating art. The media rarely seems to care about international film culture unless it's Oscar week, in which case they're allowed an exception. Unfortunately for Panahi, Vafamehr and others of their ilk, the Oscar's are a long way into a future and it's sad that news of their punishments aren't making a bigger ripple amongst the film community.
EDIT: Please sign this Actors Equity petition to get Vafamehr released.