Farhad Pouladi, AFP
Last updated: 8 February, 2012

Iran’s Oscar contender has “universal” appeal

The Iranian film “A Separation” which is vying for an Oscar at the US Academy Awards, is a “universal” tale that resonates strongly with foreign audiences, its lead actor told AFP on Wednesday.

The movie’s international popularity — evidenced by multiple festival prizes over the past year — stems not so much from the rare glimpse it offers into ordinary lives in Tehran as its shared themes of love, lies and honour, Peyman Maadi said.

It has clicked “with universal audiences and that is why it has won various prizes and received international critical acclaim,” said the 41-year-old.

“Receiving a nomination in the best foreign language film category in the Oscars says a lot about the film,” he said.

Maadi gave his interview to AFP while attending Tehran’s Fajr Film Festival, where he was making his directorial debut with a film called “Snow on Pines.”

“A Separation” has scooped up awards almost everywhere it has been shown, making it a frontrunner for the Oscars, where it is competing against films from Belgium, Canada, Israel and Poland for the best foreign language statuette. It has also been nominated for best screenplay.

The movie sensitively and intelligently explores the themes of love, lies, honour and unintended consequences in a story that gradually and powerfully reveals itself to be packed with psychological and social nuance.

The couple at the centre of the film, Nader (Maadi) and his wife Simin (played by Leila Hatami), begin the tale with a reluctant estrangement, which would seem to be behind the title of the production.

But as the story develops, it becomes clear that “A Separation” also refers more broadly to the division between Iran’s middle-class, whose values and missteps are easily recognised by audiences everywhere, and Iran’s poorer underclass, with its feeling of powerlessness and adherence to religion.

Strongly motivated performances by the characters lend even more punch to the movie, which unfolds seamlessly as Nader and Simin find themselves embroiled in a legal dispute with another couple following a desperate, tragic event at home.

Surprises revealed along the way force the viewer to rethink what had passed before and the moral choices being made.

Maadi, who shifted from scriptwriting to acting four years ago, said the movie’s director, Asghar Farhadi, worked hard on the cast to ensure they authentically served the story.

“I prepared for the role for three months non-stop. I had to become Nader before Mr Farhadi said ‘You are ready’. Mr Farhadi works on you, and gets you to the level of the character and only then lets you in,” he said.

The multi-layered meaning of the movie title — the couple’s separation, the separation in Iranian society, the separation between truth and lies — was deliberate, he added.

“They (the themes) are so intertwined that you cannot separate them, and I cannot focus on any one of them. The title ‘A Separation’ is well-chosen,” he said.

Farhadi’s encouragement was also valuable for his own directorial effort, which is a movie about a dilemma surrounding a friend’s betrayal, Maadi said.

“I learnt a lot from Mr Farhadi. He told me if you have something to say then go ahead and say it.”

The US Academy Awards are to be held in Los Angeles on February 26.