- Published on Saturday, 21 January 2012 06:02
On Sunday, January 15, at the 69th Golden Globes, “A Separation” by Iranian director Asghar Farhadi won the award for Best Foreign Language Film. Already a winner in various international film festivals including the Berlin Film Festival, Asia Pacific Screen Awards, and New York Film Critics Circle, the film’s success at the Golden Globes did not necessarily come as a surprise to either its Western or Iranian audiences alike.
Not surprisingly, the film comes with its own baggage of criticisms, oppositions, and accusations. Internationally, conservative Iranian figures and filmmakers called Farhadi’s work an unrealistic image of the Iranian people and devalued the Golden Globes as yet another “Western plot against Islamic culture.” Amongst Iran’s people, the reaction could not be more different. Since the film’s win, celebrations have been taking place on social media websites and inside Iran through various messages and letters written by prominent public figures, including filmmakers and former President Mohammad Khatami. The reaction many Iranians had to the winning of the A Separation is not one of mere happiness or pride, but rather ecstaticism with a ting of anxiety.
Here are five reasons why Iranians cried for A Separation:
1-The film was made by Asghar Farhadi, Not Abbas Kiarostami
Asghar Farhadi is from a suburban, small town called Khomeinishahr, located northwest of Isfahan and known for its conservative, religious, lower to middle class residents. From here, Farhadi found his way to the Iranian capital and studied in two of the country’s most prestigious universities.
When he started his film career during the 1990s in Iran, he maintained a solid reputation within film circles, yet did not become a household name until 2009, with the widespread success of his social drama “About Eli,” which captivated audiences by leaving them guessing about the plot and characters.
Before “About Eli” was released, the success of Iranian cinema in international festivals was dominated by either banned films or those rooted in abstract topics or experimental arts. Names such as Abbas Kiarostami and Mohsen Makhmalbaf, who, in the early 1990s, took Iranian cinema to an international level, are known for their mystic, spiritual and poetic work regarded highly for artistic value, but not easily understandable for the commoners of Iran.
What made “About Eli,” and Farhadi, so successful was the portrayal of middle class Iranians whose behaviors, thoughts, beliefs and even idea of weekend fun provided a broader view of Iranian culture and society. The film, after hurdling its fair share of obstacles to get screening permission, not only won the Best Director Award at the Berlin Film Festival, but also won 3 out of 11 nominations at the Fajr Film Festival (Iran’s version of the Oscars.) Farhadi became the guy whose profound message was comprehensible by the common person. The popularity of “About Eli” began a new phenomenon in Iranian cinema: films that focus on stories for and about the average middle-class Iranian experience.
2-For Iran, Hope is a Golden Globe
“A Separation” won the Golden Globe at a time of a turbulent financial crisis in Iran. While US and EU sanctions against Iran are making the value of Iranian Riyal drop significantly, the value of oil, food, and daily goods are skyrocketing within the country, leaving the majority of people under mounting economic pressure. At the same time, the ongoing political crackdowns that have put even more political activists and intellectuals in prison or unable to work have produced a palpable and severe sense of depression amongst the people, especially the unemployed and often highly educated youth. What better to boost morale than winning one of the film industry’s most prestigious awards? The joy and celebration I witnessed on Facebook, Twitter and from prominent Iranian figures are examples of the hope Iranian people needed.
3-It is an “American” Prize
Even though “A Separation” has already participated in more than 30 international film festivals and award ceremonies, for the Iranian people no recognition is as highly regarded as an American award that has the Hollywood brand attached to it. Just as much of the world imagines Hollywood as a giant dream factory, Iranians are no different. The latest Hollywood movies, though officially banned in Iran, are watched on a regular basis by the population and famous stars such as Brad Pitt and Angelina Julie are worshiped by the Iranian youth. Iranian people, trapped by their government’s foreign polices and politics and have become obsessed with America and American mainstream culture. To have Americans acknowledge their existence in a context much more positive than impeding nuclear programs had undoubtedly caused elation amongst the public, and provided some desperately needed validation.
4-Let’s Take a Break from Politics
Recently, the MEK (an Iranian opposition terrorist group), stated that, in his Golden Globe acceptance speech, Asghar Farhadi squandered the opportunity of his time at the podium to speak about the crimes of the Islamic Republic, such as imprisoning fellow filmmaker Jafar Panahi. Instead, Farhadi chose to declare only one thing: “Iranian people are truly peace-loving people.” Simple and direct, he said enough to send a message to politicians both inside and outside Iran: make art, not war.
5-It was Madonna, for God’s sake!
Just like the popularity of Hollywood, Madonna is a household name in Iran; so popular that Iran’s renowned pop singer, Googoosh, is often called the “Madonna of Iran.” Though the ceremony was not officially aired on national TV in Iran, millions of Iranians watched the ceremony on illegal satellite TVs. For them, Farhadi receiving an award from the hands of the legendary diva is like being blessed by the Pope.
It might seem that Iranians are overreacting. "It’s just a Golden Globe," one might say, but for Iranians, who internationally are associated with terror, dictatorship, violence and even nuclear power for harmful purposes, receiving a non-political award equals recognition of the fact that a country’s people cannot necessarily be judged by its government. This Golden Globe wins leads to global accessibility, so that audiences abroad can finally see an honest and realistic portrayal of the Iranian middle class people whose problems, lies, struggles to survive, disputes, tears, laughter, loves and feelings are just as real and human as the rest of the world.
These five reasons were shared and understood by Iranians both within Iranian borders and globally. The win was a cathartic community event. But, will it bring additional tribulations for the filmmaker?
In 2009, when Asghar Farhadi received the Crystal Phenix for “About Eli”, in the 27th Fajr Film Festival, he said, “I wish the atmosphere in the country was somehow that Golshifteh (a prominent actress who was forced to leave the country after appearing in Ridley Scott’s Body of Lies without Hijab) could come back and make more movies.” Iranians laughed and cried wondering, will someone say the same about him soon? This is why some of the tears Iranians shed for Asghar Farhadi were of sadness as well as pride. Will he be able to come back to Iran, especially now that his movie is nominated for the Oscars? Many are worried.By Parisa Saranj, Aslan Media Contributing Writer
For more on Iranians’ celebration of Farhadi’s Golden Globe win, check out this commentary by PBS’ Tehran Bureau.
*Photo Credit: Beacon Radio
Music from the Mideast
Tennessee native Mo Sabri (https://www.facebook.com/TheMoSabri)is a Muslim rapper and singer. Raised in a traditional household, he was taught to...
DAM, or Da Arabian MCs, has been widely recognized as the first Palestinian Hip Hop group, and is among the...