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Iran film for Oscars stirs debate on home front

© AFP/File | "Damascus Time", a film about Iran's battle against jihadists in Syria, was not selected as the Iranian Oscar contestant

TEHRAN (AFP) - 

The Iranian film for next year's Oscars has stirred controversy at home both over the choice of a downbeat movie and for taking part in the Hollywood spectacle at a time of tense Tehran-Washington ties.

The Farabi Cinema Foundation tasked with selecting Iran's contestant for the best foreign-language film category has announced its choice of "No Date, No Signature", which won best director and best actor at the 2017 Venice Film Festival.

Vahid Jalilvand's film, which has scooped a host of other awards aboard, tells the tale of two men tormented by guilt over the death of a boy in a road accident, set against a background of social injustice.

"Every year the same debate surfaces over whether or not to submit a film" for the contest in Hollywood, Farabi said last Friday while naming its choice.

The US decision to pull out of the nuclear accord with the Islamic republic and to reimpose sanctions this year has "led certain parties to propose a boycott of the Oscars", it said, referring to Iran's conservative camp.

Defending its participation, the foundation said that members of the Academy which organises the event were among leading critics of "the populist government of (President Donald) Trump and of its policies tainted with racism and unilateralism".

The choice of "No Date, No Signature" was vindicated by its success abroad and "the efforts of its distributor" to bring the movie to screens in the United States, Farabi said.

- 'Golden opportunity' missed -

But the ultra-conservative press was unimpressed.

"Like the strategy used by Trump in interviews and tweets to depict Iran as a nation abandoned by hope and mired in poverty and misery, 'No Date, No Signature', a most bitter and dark film, has been chosen for the Oscars," Javan newspaper said in a commentary.

It said the foundation had squandered "a golden opportunity" to enlighten the outside world on the values of Iran by nominating another movie, "Damascus Time", on its battle against jihadists in Syria.

Director Ebrahim Hatamikia's film, funded by the Revolutionary Guards, the country's ideological army, has been a hit at the Tehran box office.

After three films were shortlisted from a 110-strong field, "the decisive factor that made 'No Date, No Signature' the best choice was its professional and effective foreign distributor which the others did not have", said Houshang Golmakani, a critic with "Film Magazine", a monthly on Iranian movies he co-founded.

The subject matter makes it "a caustic film" as regards its portrayal of life in Iran, he told AFP. "But art is not a matter of touting for your country."

In 2017, Iranian director Asghar Farhadi won his second Oscar for best foreign movie with "The Salesman", but he boycotted the awards ceremony in Los Angeles in protest at Trump's controversial policies on immigration.

© 2018 AFP