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Iran Cheers ‘The Salesman’s’ Oscar, But Politics Risks Diminishing Asghar Farhadi’s Art

Variety logo Variety 2/27/2017 Nick Vivarelli
© Provided by Variety

ROME – Iran rejoiced Monday at news of “The Salesman’s” Oscar victory for best foreign language film, but political reverberations risk undermining the artistic accomplishment of director Asghar Farhadi’s film.

Farhadi did not attend the ceremony in protest against President Trump’s travel ban, despite the suspension of the executive order by U.S. courts.

“Proud of cast & crew of ‘The Salesman’ for Oscar & stance against #MuslimBan. Iranians have represented culture & civilization for millennia,” Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted.

Iran’s government-owned Press TV cheered news of the Oscar with the headline “Asghar Farhadi wins another Oscar for Iran” on its website. Although the Academy Award for best foreign language film is customarily accepted by the winning film’s director, it is considered a prize for the submitting country as a whole.

In a prepared statement read out by Iranian American engineer Anousheh Ansari (pictured, right), who accepted the Oscar on Farhadi’s behalf, the director said his absence was “out of respect for the people of my country and those of other six nations who have been disrespected by the inhumane law that bans entry of immigrants to the U.S.”

Ironically, however, some observers said Trump might be partially to thank for Farhadi’s win.

“I am sure Cohen Media Group [‘The Salesman’s’ U.S. co-distributor] would not have gotten the same publicity for this film by spending millions of dollars, though it deserves such recognition,” Tehran-based distributor Mohammad Attebai told Variety before the Oscars were handed out. The winning film’s other U.S. distributor is Amazon Studios.

“It’s fake news that will give Asghar the Oscar,” Sony Pictures Classics co-chairman Tom Bernard told the Los Angeles Times as he entered the Dolby Theatre on Sunday afternoon. “The media has made the foreign [language film] race about a vote against Trump and not about the films,” Bernard said, adding that he did not blame Farhadi for this.

Sony Picture Classics previously distributed Farhadi’s “A Separation,” which won the 2012 Oscar for best foreign language film. Currently, SPC is distributing “Toni Erdmann,” the German title that some had regarded as the front-runner for this year’s award but that ultimately lost out to “The Salesman.”

Trump effect or no, many critics have lauded the artistic achievement of “The Salesman,” a revenge drama whose protagonist, a part-time actor, plays Willy Loman in an Iranian interpretation of Arthur Miller’s classic American play “Death of a Salesman.” Variety critic Owen Gleiberman described “The Salesman” as a “finely cut gem.”

Richard Brody of The New Yorker said “The Salesman” would appeal to Academy voters.

“The fact that [Farhadi] couldn’t get a U.S. visa to come to the ceremony may slightly boost the film’s chances, but I think that it will win for another reason,” Brody predicted on The New Yorker’s website. “Farhadi is a dully confident realist whose films have an overt, even an obvious, element of social critique, psychology by numbers, and no strangeness whatsoever. It is, above all, respectable filmmaking. It’s made for an Oscar.”

A.O. Scott of The New York Times wrote in his review that “not since Pedro Almodóvar’s ‘All About My Mother,‘ which brilliantly re-engineered ‘A Streetcar Named Desire,’ has a classic of the American stage been put to such ingenious cinematic use.

“Mr. Farhadi’s control is astonishing, as is the discipline of the actors. Their final scenes are at once riveting and hard to watch. Attention, as someone once said, must be paid.”

It was.

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