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Iran Picks Rise of Islam Epic ‘Muhammad: The Messenger of God’ for Foreign-Language Oscar

Iran has selected “Muhammad: The Messenger of God,” the controversial blockbuster about the birth and rise of Islam directed by Majid Majidi, as its entry for the Oscar foreign-language film race.

Considered the most expensive Iranian movie ever made, the $40 million epic was lensed by Vittorio Storaro and features a score by Indian composer A.R. Rahman. The film recently prompted a fatwa from a Muslim group in India and has also sparked other forms of disapproval from Sunni religious authorities. Many Muslims consider any depiction of Muhammad to be taboo, even fleeting glimpses, such as those in the film.

Iran is largely Muslim, with the vast majority belonging to the Shiite sect.

The partly government-financed “Muhammad” is playing on more than half of Iran’s roughly 320 screens after opening the Montreal Film Festival on Aug. 27.

Box office receipts have hit over 70 billion rials ($2 million) in one month, according to the government-controlled Tehran Times. If that figure is accurate, it’s a nice haul.

The Muslim ban on images of Muhammad caused concern in Iran during the seven-year gestation of the religious blockbuster, which depicts the future prophet from birth through the age of 12.

In her review, Variety critic Alissa Simon wrote, “Majidi respects Islamic convention by never showing Muhammad’s face and shooting him mostly from the back.”

Majidi has said that through the biopic, he aimed to remove the “violent image” of Islam created by jihadist groups.

Majidi previously scored Iran’s first Oscar nomination when his “Children of Heaven” was nominated in the foreign-language category in 1998.

Iran won its first Academy Award for foreign-language film with Asghar Farhadi’s “A Separation” in 2012.

The deadline for foreign-language film entries is Oct. 1. The Academy will announce the nominations Jan. 14 from a shortlist of nine films and the Oscars will take place Feb. 28 at the Dolby Theatre.

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