As we’re getting closer to this year’s Academy Awards, discussions about the contenders continues to trend. This year, the Foreign Language Film category is getting more attention due to the current climate of US politics, with The Salesman's actor and director’s respective reactions to President Trump’s Muslim ban having raised questions about the academy taking political action.
While 2009's About Elly was an international breakthrough for Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, the film that really put him on the map was A Separation in 2011. It won every foreign language film award at every major awards ceremony, including the BAFTAs, Golden Globes and #Oscars. It was even nominated for Best Writing, Original Screenplay at the 2012 Academy Awards. A Separation presented extraordinary details and intense focus on morality issues, wrapped in realistic filmmaking. It was certainly worthy of the global attention it garnered.
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A Love Letter To Iran
#AsgharFarhadi’s next film, 2013's The Past, exemplified just about every characteristic of his cinematic approach that he'd come to be known for. The only missing element? Iran. The film takes place in France and boasts an intricate script and excellent direction, boosted with an incredible cast and an intuitive understanding formed perfectly by Farhadi and cinematographer Mahmoud Kalari.
The Past received the Best Actress award at the 66th #CannesFilmFestival, but in the awards season it was swiftly forgotten, only receiving a Golden Globes nod for the Best Foreign Language Film and nary an Oscar nomination. But considering that year’s nominees included Omar, The Hunt and The Great Beauty, it was bound to be a tight race. However, not even being nominated was a great disappointment for The Past.
Now, here we are, just a few days out from the 89th Academy Awards, and Farhadi’s latest film The Salesman is not only nominated but has the biggest chance to win in that category. With two Cannes awards already under its belt and a couple more international awards — including the Munich Film Festival’s Best International Film and Chicago International Film Festival’s Special Jury Prize — it's arguably the least lauded movie of Farhadi's career thus far. It didn’t receive a BAFTA nomination and lost out on the #GoldenGlobe to Paul Verhoeven’s Elle. Despite its enormous popularity in Iran, many critics agree this film is middling among Farhadi’s works.
Hollywood On The Battlefield
But the bottom line is, the academy and international awards ceremonies love Farhadi’s works. They want to discover and praise Iranian culture and social conditions through Farhadi’s mindset. Alongside his intelligence and professional skills, Farhadi presents a nonjudgmental picture of Iranian society, which is interesting for Western viewers.
The Oscars has always been a platform for politics and this is not necessarily a bad thing. While we can’t deny that the issue of the Muslim ban and Farhadi’s comments are irrelevant to the academy’s eventual choice of winner, as artists across America unite against Trump’s policies, this could be the next big step in Hollywood resistance. Remember Meryl Streep's Golden Globes speech and that of the cast of Stranger Things at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, and now think of a scenario in which the Academy Award winner is not present to accept their award.
Among all the commentary, The New Yorker‘s Richard Brody puts things in a neat perspective:
For Best Foreign Language Film, I had thought, since I saw it at the New York Film Festival, that the German director Maren Ade’s “Toni Erdmann” was predestined to win; I now think that the Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s “The Salesman” will win. “Toni Erdmann” is the more distinctive film, the stranger film, and the more original film, despite the slackness and the pat messaging of Ade’s direction. Farhadi is a blandly naturalistic filmmaker whose style and tone could derive from any European film school’s training. The fact that he 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: 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.
I haven’t watched any other nominated movies and don’t know enough to comment on them, but I know that what The Salesman is providing is a thrilling drama based on a detailed screenplay, with strong performances and a nonjudgmental, realistic narration. And that is what makes it worthy of an Oscar.
Will you be watching the Academy Awards on Sunday night? Tell us your predictions in the comments below.