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Israeli distrib embraces ‘A Separation’

Shani Films shows pic at Lev Cinemas

TEL AVIV — Israeli audiences are no longer separated from “A Separation.”

Shani Films has acquired Israeli distribution rights to Iranian helmer Asghar Farhadi’s Oscar-nommed pic about divorce and family trials in modern-day Tehran. The film is now playing exclusively at Lev Cinemas, an Israeli moviehouse conglomerate owned by the distributor. Pic is repped by FilmIran in Iran and by Sony Pictures Classics in the U.S.

Politically, Israel and Iran are poised on the brink of war, but Israeli interest has piqued over the film ever since it was announced that both “A Separation” and Israeli helmer Joseph Cedar’s “Footnote” would be competing for the best foreign-lingo Oscar on Feb. 26. This is Iran’s second nod in the category, and Israel’s 10th. Neither country has ever taken a statue.

The Iranian pic, which is considered the frontrunner for the Oscar after taking the foreign film prize at the Golden Globes, is being shown in its original Farsi, with Hebrew subtitles.

Both Cedar and Farhadi have taken pains to keep political tensions out of the cinematic debate. At a hastily-arranged news conference in Israel following the nomination of “Footnote,” a jubilant Cedars joked that when his moment comes to walk the red carpet at the Kodak Theater, “I hope to walk hand in hand with my wife, or maybe with one of the producers. The hand of (Farhadi) will probably be taken.”

As far as Israelis go, there are certainly a few close to Farhadi’s heart. Speaking to Time Out London last year after “A Separation” grabbed the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Fest, Farhadi was asked to describe his dream cast for a Hollywood version of the pic. To play Simin, the female lead, he tapped an Israeli, exclaiming, “Natalie Portman! Simin would be played by Natalie Portman in the remake!”

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