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Farsi-Language Features in International Feature Race – The Hollywood Reporter

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For the first time in Oscar history, three Persian-language films are up for the Academy Award for best international feature. Alongside Iran’s official entry, Houman Seyyedi’s darkly comic World War III, Denmark has submitted serial killer drama Holy Spider from Iran-born, Copenhagen-based Ali Abbasi. Britain’s hopes, meanwhile, lie with Winners, a tragicomic tale about (of all things) a missing Oscar statue, from director Hassan Nazer, another Iranian expat, who lives in Scotland.

Taken together, the trio of movies represents the breadth of Iranian cinema, within the country and among the filmmaking diaspora.

Winners is Nazer’s love letter to his country’s filmmakers. Dedicated to Iranian directors Abbas Kiarostami, Asghar Farhadi, Majid Majidi and Jafar Panahi, it is jam-packed with references to and quotes from other Farsi films, among them Panahi’s Taxi and Majidi’s Children of Heaven and The Song of Sparrows (the star of the latter two movies, Mohammad Amir Naji, has a prominent meta role in Winners). The story, about two poor village kids who find an Oscar statue and try in vain to sell it, points out, with gentle but sometimes biting humor, the chasm between the dream world that movies represent and the harsh realities of everyday life in Iran.

Holy Spider


That gap between the cinematic and the real world is also on display in World War III, but Seyyedi’s film is less a children’s fairy tale than an absurdist satire (see story, left). The Hitler movie-within-the-movie, from what we see of it, looks horrible (though hilarious), and Seyyedi appears to be saying something about the impossibility of capturing true tragedy — like the fate of men like Shakib — using cinematic cliches.

Both Winners and World War III were made with the approval, though not the support, of the Iranian government. (Winners was fully financed in Scotland; World War III was privately financed.) Both received official permits to shoot in Iran. Not so for Holy Spider, which was financed out of Europe and had to shoot in Jordan after Tehran refused to approve Abbasi’s script, a fictional retelling of the hunt for a true-life serial killer who murdered sex workers in the streets of Mashhad, Iran’s holiest city, from 2000 to 2001. Of the Farsi Oscar trio, Abbasi’s movie is the most radical, both in its graphic violence and its direct condemnation of the Iranian regime, which the director sees as deeply rooted in misogyny.

That overt political stance could help Holy Spider in the Oscar race, given the global outcry over Iran’s brutal crackdown on women and other human rights protesters. But all three contenders, in their way, reflect on the realities of living in Iran and the struggles of Iranian directors to make art under strict government control and censure.

This story first appeared in a December stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

This story originally appeared on HollywoodReporter

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