A previous post concerned itself with the possible wider effects arising from Iranian film A Separation winning an Oscar in the Best Foreign Language category.
The main argument I was exploring is forcefully set out in this article from The Independent by Catherine Butler, titled: ‘See this film and then say that bombing Iran is ok‘.
The big question prompted by the award – the first ever Oscar for an Iranian film – is this: could the box-office succeed where sanctions have failed? Could Oscars diplomacy deliver us from the military confrontation over Iran’s nuclear programme that Israel seems to want and which the British Government has joined in threatening? It would be naïve to imagine President Ahmadinejad, charmed by the Hollywood prize, suddenly announcing he will comply with the West’s demands.
The film could yet, however – and in a much more subversive way – influence the course of history, assuming that thanks to this Oscar, more people in Europe, America and Israel end up going to see it. Indeed, in my view, only when you have watched this painful film should you be permitted to have an opinion on how useful, sane or morally acceptable it is to even discuss bombing Iran rather than seeking a diplomatic end to the over-hyped stand-off about its desire for a nuclear capability.
Farhadi’s drama has nothing overt to say about regime change, nuclear weapons or revolutionary Islam. But its focus on the everyday and on contemporary human problems is its power. It is a portrait of a disintegrating relationship against a backdrop of family obligation and social division, and everyone worries about paying the bills. It could easily be transposed to a US setting, in which you could imagine the lead characters being played by George Clooney and Julianne Moore.
The comments yesterday of Israelis who saw A Separation and told an AP reporter they were surprised that Iranians had fridges and washing machines were saddening, and revealing. But hardly surprising when you think about how Iran and Iranians are generally characterised in Western discourse. Iran has become more of a concept, a frightening idea, than a set of people with a proud civilisation, a turbulent modern history, and a legitimate viewpoint or even humanity. And, of course, you can only convince yourself that it is morally legitimate to bomb other people – don’t kid ourselves that Iran’s nuclear sites could be destroyed without also bombing a great many Iranian women, men and children – when you have dehumanised them or reduced them to caricatures of evil. The enemy.
Unlike the dangerously lazy narrative that is now received wisdom about Iran, the film is complex, sophisticated and nuanced. If even some of the cinema-going public come away thinking of Iranians as ordinary people like themselves, perhaps the sleepwalk to a futile war might become a little less inevitable than it now looks.
Perhaps, just perhaps, art really can change the world? Just a bit?