Auds Separate Art, Politics in Israel

By Kamin, Debra | Variety, March 12-March 18 | Go to article overview

Auds Separate Art, Politics in Israel


Kamin, Debra, Variety


For weeks now, Israelis have been fixated on Iran - not its government or its garrisons, but on its little independent film that could, Asghar Farhadi's "A SePaTaUOn." Take a look at the headlines, and war between Israel and Iran seems imminent. The moviehouses, though, where tens of thousands of Israelis have queued up for sold-out showings of 44A SePaTaTdOn," tell a different story.

When Guy Shani, CEO of Shani Films, a family-run business here that owns the country's ubiquitous Lev Cinema multiplexes, brought the Oscar-winning pic to Israel, he knew he would face a storm of questions. After all, Iran and Israel are locked in a potentially deadly game of nuclear chess. But Shani, like most of Israel's cinephiles, isn't particularly interested in politics.

"Everybody's called me. Everybody wants blood. Everybody wants me to say something provocative," Shani says, pacing back and forth in his Tel Aviv office. "But I'm sorry. Do you know why I bought the movie? Because it was a great movie, and this is my profession."

The pic, which tells the story of a middle-class couple breaking up amid a fractious portrait of Iran that considers the divisions between the nation's secular and religious sectors, opened in February on nine screens across Israel, just before another battle between the two countries for the foreign-language Oscar was about to play out. On Feb. 26, the "Footnote" delegation (helmer Joseph Cedar and topliners Lior Ashkenazi and Shlomo Bar-Aba) walked the same red carpet as Farhadi and his group, and while they were never photographed together, Ashkenazi told the Israeli press he had chatted happily on the sidelines with two of the Iranian actors.

Iran took the Oscar statuette and Israel went home empty-handed, registering its 10th Oscar defeat, more than any other country. Farhadi used his moment at the podium to try to steer things away from politics, and to herald Iran's rich artistic history, saying, "At the time when talk of war, intimidation and aggression is exchanged between politicians, the name of their country, Iran, is spoken here through her glorious culture."

Iranian state TV, however, struck an entirely different tone, trumpeting the win the following morning as a "triumph over the Zionist regime" and announcing that Israel's Oscar defeat was just the first step in its eventual demise.

But to Limor Edery, managing director and chief buyer for United King Films, one of Israel's largest production and distribution firms, such comments are irrelevant.

"Politics and films are two different things for us," she says of United King. "In art, there is no place for this. …

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