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Iran’s Movie Diplomacy: How Can We Attack A Country With Such Great Cinema?

Iran's Movie Diplomacy: How Can We Attack A Country With Such Great Cinema?

In 2006, I wrote this headline, “How Can We Attack A Country With Such Great Cinema?” for a blog post, precipitated by a New York Times story I wrote about a number of Iranian films playing at that year’s Tribeca Film Festival. Nearly six years later, the headline–and the thoughts behind it–seem as relevant as ever. With the success of Asghar Farhadi’s “A Separation” (an Oscar win, the highest-grossing Iranian film in the U.S. ever, and the most successful foreign film in many months) at the same time as we’re seeing escalating tensions between the U.S. and Iran over its nuclear ambitions, it seems little has changed. Except, I guess, this time, we have a more reasonable head of state.

Like the films I wrote about in 2006, “A Separation” stands out for its universal situations and conflicts, experiences that most well-to-do Western art-house viewers can relate to. When I first saw it, the movie reminded me more of “Kramer vs. Kramer” than any Iranian film I had seen.

As I wrote in the Times: “In the late 90’s, films like Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s ‘Gabbeh,’ Jafar Panahi’s ‘The White Balloon’ and Majid Majidi’s ‘Children of Heaven’ gave American audiences the impression that Iranian cinema consisted largely of rural tales focusing on children and the poor. But the latest cinematic current can be broadly described as less allegorical and more urban, middle-class and politically charged.”

“There are very few filmmakers left in Iran who are still interested in regurgitating the simple and naïve style that used to be associated with Iranian cinema,” filmmaker Mani Haghighi told me some years ago.

“The torch has been definitely passed on from the old guard to a new generation of young filmmakers,” Iranian film scholar and filmmaker Jamseed Akrami told me.

“Not so surprisingly, the transition seems to have also created a fertile ground for dealing with new stories and daring themes,” he explained, specifically citing Farhadi’s earlier film “Fireworks Wednesday,” which is about conjugal infidelity within the context of an educated Iranian middle class family. “The film’s director Asghar Farhdi is a bright young talent who seriously questioned some fundamental aspects of the Islamic justice system in his second film “Beautiful City,” he said.

Now with “A Separation.” Farhadi has opened more Americans’ eyes to the fact that Iranian people are not so dissimilar to everyone else.  And that, alone, should help derail the road to war. We can only hope.

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