Farhadi's Berlin winner vies in foreign-language race

TEL AVIV — “Nader and Simin, a Separation,” the first Iranian film to win the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, is Iran’s submission in the foreign-language film race at the 84th Academy Awards.

Pic, from writer-helmer Asghar Farhadi, traces the breakdown of a middle-class couple, played by Peyman Moaadi and Leila Hatami, in Tehran.

Simin files for divorce from her husband Nader after he refuses to leave the country and raise their 11-year-old daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi) abroad, where she believes they can give her a better future.

Farhad’s script does a delicate dance around Iranian censorship, never explicitly addressing the government’s regime but nevertheless granting politics a heady, albeit silent, role.

Farhadi’s fifth pic was made with the help of a $25,000 grant from the MPA’s Asia Pacific Screen Award Academy Film Fund. Like his previous three films, including “About Elly,” which also explored Iranian middle-class malaise and won the 2009 Asia Pacific Screen Academy award for best screenplay and the jury grand prize, “Nader and Simin” was made without funding from the Iranian government.

The Iranian Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance attempted to block Farhadi from production following his speech last September in which he said he hoped banned filmmakers, including Mohsen Makhmalbaf, who is in self-imposed exile, and Jafar Panahi, who is under house arrest, would be allowed to return to the Iranian film scene. After he issued a public apology for his remarks, the government rescinded Farhadi’s ban.

That makes it all the more surprising that a board of nine cineastes assigned by the Farabi Cinematic Foundation, an affiliate to the ministry, chose “Nader and Simin.”

The success of the film, Farhadi said in Berlin in February while accepting the Golden Bear, has provided him with “a very good opportunity to think of the people of my country, the country I grew up in, the country where I learned my stories — a great people.”

Iran did not submit films for Oscar consideration in the early years of the Islamic Republic after 1979’s revolution.

That changed in 1994 when Abbas Kiarostami’s “Through the Olive Trees” was put forward. Helmer Majid Majidi’s “Children of Heaven” made it to Oscar’s foreign-language films shortlist in 1997.

The deadline for all countries to send in their submissions is Oct. 1. The Academy Awards will be held Feb. 26 at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood.

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