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Category: Foreign-language Oscar

Oscars winners: 'A Separation's' triumph raises hopes for Iran

February 27, 2012 |  8:37 pm

Separation6
Sussan Deyhim still worries that saber-rattling rhetoric could escalate into war between Iran and Israel or the United States.

"There are enough crazy people out there ... that this actually could happen," said the Tehran-born singer-composer, whose film music credits include "The Kite Runner" and "The Stoning of Soraya M."

But Deyhim hopes the success of the Iranian domestic drama "A Separation," which won the best foreign language Oscar on Sunday, and its director's carefully-worded acceptance speech could help ease rising tensions and alter Western perceptions of her homeland.

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In receiving his Oscar, director Asghar Farhadi offered a plea that "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, a rich and ancient culture that has been hidden under the heavy dust of politics.

"I proudly offer this award to the people of my country, the people who respect all cultures and civilizations and despise hostility and resentment," he added.

Said Deyhim, "He was making it very clear that as people we are very pacifist."

Across Southern California, home to one of the world's largest Persian expatriate communities, other artists voiced similar sentiments. "I think once Americans, they see that and they relate and they understand there is no need for wars and guns," said Andy Madadian, an Armenian Iranian pop singer who has lived in Los Angeles for decades.

A number of Iranian and foreign news reports Monday quoted Iranians voicing pride at their country's first Oscar win. Some Iranian authorities also expressed satisfaction that "A Separation" beat the Israeli film "Footnote," about father-son Talmudic scholars.

But at least for a moment, art may have spoken more loudly than political spin, suggested Aryana Farshad, L.A.-based director of the documentary film "Mystic Iran."

"Every time there is the threat of war, intellectuals, artists, filmmakers always come to the rescue," Farshad said. "The Iranian filmmakers, they're my heroes."

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Photo: "A Separation" director Asghar Farhadi (Iran) holds aloft the Oscar for foreign language film. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times.


Academy Awards 2012: 'A Separation' wins for foreign-language film

February 26, 2012 |  6:08 pm

A Separation

The Iranian film “A Separation” from director Asghar Farhadi took home the Oscar for foreign language film on Sunday.

The film’s story centers on a couple who must decide whether to leave Iran to offer their child a better life, or stay to take care of an ailing parent. Released in February 2011, "A Separation" was deemed an early front-runner by critics after a rare triple-prize-winning performance at the Berlin International Film Festival.

Competing against the movie at the 84th Academy Awards were Poland's “In Darkness” from director Agnieszka Holland, Canada's "Monsieur Lazhar" from director Philippe Falardeau, Belgium's “Bullhead” from director Michael R. Roskam and Israel’s “Footnote” from director Joseph Cedar.

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After garnering high box office numbers and taking home the Golden Globe for foreign language film earlier this month, the film had come into the Oscar race with an undeniable edge.

The Academy Awards are taking place in Hollywood and are being televised live on ABC. They are presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, whose membership was recently examined in depth by the Los Angeles Times.

For more Oscars breaking news and analysis, check back on 24 Frames.

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Photo: Leila Hatami, left, and Peyman Moadi in "A Separation." Credit: Habib Madjidi / Sony Pictures Classics.


Oscar contender 'A Separation': Betsy Sharkey's pick of the week

February 23, 2012 |  5:00 am

There are endless reasons to make time to see “A Separation,” Iran's entry in the foreign language film category, other than to boost your odds in the Oscar pool, though you will.

It is one of those rare films in which literally everything fits together seamlessly, beautifully, to create a rich tapestry of a family that, despite living in modern-day Tehran, will feel remarkably familiar.

Writer-director Asghar Farhadi's tale is of a marriage fracturing under the strains of impossible choices -- do husband (Peyman Moadi) and wife (Leila Hatami) leave their country to make a better life for their daughter or do they stay to care for an aging parent with Alzheimer's? The answer divides them, but it is the ripple effect of their decision that is so wrenching, so artfully told, so remarkably acted.

It is virtually impossible not to be deeply moved by this powerful film. It is impossible not to be struck by the fact that while wars, religion, politics may divide us, when it comes to matters of the heart, the experience is universal.

-- Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times film critic


Oscar voters: From Britain to Brazil, academy members span globe

February 21, 2012 |  2:09 pm

Bertrand tavernier academy voter

As Pricewaterhouse Coopers accountants tally the Oscar votes this week, they are sure to be opening lots of envelopes mailed from motion picture academy members in the 90210 ZIP Code. But they’ll also be seeing postmarks from dozens of foreign countries, including Japan, Britain, Ireland, Denmark and India.

The overwhelming bulk of the academy’s 5,765 voting members, including a substantial number who are foreign-born, make their homes in the United States, primarily in California and New York. But according to an L.A. Times study of the academy, which tracked down 89% of the membership, some 500 others, including actors, directors, makeup artists and hairstylists, reside abroad.

The largest regional bloc is from Britain, including England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (some 250 members). By The Times’ count, at least 57 members live in Canada and about 45 in Australia.

Oscar voters studyAccording to The Times’ study, most of the rest reside in European countries including France (more than three dozen members), Italy and Spain (about 20 each), Germany, Ireland, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Belgium, Hungary and Norway. Members also can be found in New Zealand, Brazil, Japan, Argentina, Mexico and Thailand.

Foreign members include director Roman Polanski, whose legal troubles precipitated his flight from L.A. to France years ago; British composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, better known for this Broadway hits than his Hollywood smashes; costume designer Bhanu Athaiya, the first Indian to win an Oscar, for “Gandhi,” in 1982; and Italian cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, an Oscar winner for “Apocalypse Now,” “Reds” and “The Last Emperor.”

There are advantages as well as drawbacks to living thousands of miles from Hollywood during Oscar season, some foreign members said. On the plus side: getting to watch screeners of movies that haven’t yet opened at their neighborhood theater. On the minus side: spotty mail delivery of Oscar-related materials, and the fact that foreign nominees often are out of sight, out of mind when voters are marking their ballots.

French director Bertrand Tavernier enjoys voting for the Oscars although, he acknowledges with a chuckle, “I don’t read the rules. I’ve never really understood how they work.” Tavernier looks forward to getting his annual shipments of DVD screeners of Oscar-eligible films –- at least the ones that make it to his house in Paris.

“They used to send copies by Federal Express, but if you aren’t home, they don’t deliver,” he said. “I’m sure 10 or 15 films arrived that I never received.”

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Oscars 2012: Watch an exclusive clip from Belgium's 'Bullhead'

February 17, 2012 | 10:43 am

Bullhead

"Bullhead" is one of the big surprises of this awards season. A moody, stylish crime picture, the Belgian film is something of a surprise Oscar nominee in the foreign-language category, up against a cadre of more conventionally high-toned dramas. "Bullhead" opens Friday in Los Angeles at the Cinefamily.

In this exclusive clip from the film, the audience meets the main character of Jacky (portrayed in a widely celebrated performance by Matthias Schoenaerts) for the first time. Putting on some 60 pounds for the role, Schoenaerts conveys the sense that Jacky is a wounded animal, trying hard to put his past behind him even as he faces an uncertain future. A cattle farmer, Jacky finds himself caught up in a criminal underworld of hormone-dealing hoodlums. As this scene shows, Jacky is no pushover, but nevertheless winds up in over his head.

In an interview in Los Angeles last week, Michael R. Roskam, writer and director of "Bullhead," talked about the scene as the introduction to this uniquely configured character.

"I wanted to do many things in that scene," Roskam said. "First of all, creating the right tone with the camera and the movement. What's the environment: farms. What's it about: something illegal. The way he talks, it's intimidating and you feel immediately this is a gangster style.

"But at the same time, I want you to look at him the way I am looking at him: with a soft eye, tender almost. And that's the complete atmosphere of the scene. He's brutal and then he turns around and is, in a way, nice." 

 

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Photo: Sam Louwyck in the Belgian film "Bullhead". Credit: Savage Films.

Clip: Drafthouse Films


Oscars: 'A Separation,' 'Footnote' top foreign language film nominees

January 24, 2012 |  5:49 am

A Separation

Iran's "A Separation," from director Asghar Farhadi, topped the list of nominees for the foreign-language film Oscar early Tuesday morning. Competing against the acclaimed movie about a couple's unraveling marriage at the 84th Academy Awards will be Belgium's "Bullhead," from director Michael R. Roskam, Canada's "Monsieur Lazhar," from director Philippe Falardea, Israel's "Footnote," from director Joseph Cedar, and Poland's "In Darkness," from director Agnieszka Holland.

"A Separation" is considered the favorite in the category. The film, which nabbed a Golden Globe last week, centers on a couple who must decide whether to leave Iran to offer their child a better life, or stay to take care of an ailing parent. The film has been universally embraced by critics: It currently has a 99% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. You can read Times Film Critic Kenneth Turan's review here.

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"Footnote" also scored well with critics when it bowed at the Toronto and Cannes film festivals last year. The film tells the story of father-and-son Talmudic scholars in Israel and the rivalry that sprouts up between them. Sony Pictures Classics will release the film in March. SPC also will release "In Darkness" in February. The Polish film centers on Nazi-occupied Poland and one man's efforts to hide a group of Jews in the sewer. It played for a one-week awards-qualifying run last year.

Drafthouse Films will release Belgium's "Bullhead" later this year, while Canada's “Monsieur Lazhar” will be released by Music Box Films in April, or possibly earlier now that the film has earned an Oscar nomination.

The Oscars will be handed out Feb. 26 at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood. ABC will broadcast the ceremony, which veteran Billy Crystal will host.

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Photo: Leila Hatami and Peyman Moadi in "A Separation." Credit: Sony Pictures Classics


Oscars: How to find 'A Separation,' other foreign-language films

January 18, 2012 |  2:46 pm

Pina

This post has been corrected. See the note at the bottom for details.

With Oscar nominations less than a week away, specific academy members invited to review the nine films on the foreign-language shortlist will have a very busy weekend, narrowing the list down to five movies ahead of Tuesday's nominations.

While Mark Johnson, chair of the foreign-language film award executive committee, declined to reveal who is part of this year's Phase 2 selection committee, last year's final selection committee included such high-profile academy members as Anne Hathaway, Julian Schnabel and Richard LaGravenese in New York and Ryan Gosling, Michael Cera and Michael Mann in Los Angeles, among many others. "In the second phase, we really do represent every branch of the academy," said Johnson.

He added, "I'm very proud of this list. I love the plurality of the list. I love that we have a documentary in it. I think we have some major filmmakers represented here. I'm quite pleased."

And though he wishes that the shortlist featured 15 films, rather than 9, his committee left off a fair number of presumed sure things, including Lebanon's "Where Do We Go Now?," from director Nadine Labaki, which landed the Toronto International Film Festival Audience Award; Zhang Yimou's war film "The Flowers of War," starring Christian Bale;  Hungary's official choice "The Turin Horse" from respected art-house director Bela Tarr; and Turkey's murder-mystery "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia," among others.

Southern California moviegoers can see only four of the films currently on the shortlist, and some of those not until February or March. Currently in theaters in limited release is Iran's official entry, "A Separation" from director Asghar Farhadi. The film, which nabbed a Golden Globe, centers on a couple who must decide whether to leave Iran to offer their child a better life, or stay to take care of an ailing parent. The film has been universally embraced by critics: It currently has a 100% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. You can check out Kenneth Turan's review here.

Wim Wenders' 3-D documentary on German choreographer Pina Bausch also has opened in limited release. The dance film follows the legendary Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch ensemble and has generated equally positive reviews since it opened at the end of December. Turan's review is accessible here

Audiences will have to wait a bit longer for Israel's film "Footnote," which scored well with critics when it bowed at the Toronto and Cannes film festivals last year. The film, from director Joseph Cedar, tells the story of father-and-son Talmudic scholars in Israel and the rivalry that sprouts up between them. Sony Pictures Classics will release the film in March. SPC also will release "In Darkness" in February. The Polish film, from director Agnieszka Holland, centers on Nazi-occupied Poland and one man's efforts to hide a group of Jews in the sewer. It played for a one-week awards qualifying run last year.

Drafthouse Films will release Belgium's "Bullhead" later this year, while Canada's “Monsieur Lazhar” will be released by Music Box Films in April, or possibly earlier should the film go on to earn an Oscar nomination. Taiwan's "Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale" will be released by Well Go USA this April.

The other two films, Denmark's "SuperClasico," and Morocco's "Omar Killed Me" do not have U.S. distribution, and it's not clear if they will secure deals to open in American theaters in the next few months.

[For the Record: 3:20 p.m. Jan. 18: An earlier version of this post said that neither “Bullhead," "Monsieur Lazhar" nor "Warriors of the Rainbow" had distribution deals in place.]

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Photo: Fabian Prioville and Azusa Seyama in Wim Wenders' "Pina." Credit: Donata Wenders

 


Oscars: 9 foreign-language films make academy shortlist

January 18, 2012 | 10:45 am

Golden Globe winner "A Separation"

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has winnowed 63 eligible foreign-language films down to nine potential contenders for the best foreign-language film at the 2012 Oscars. Golden Globe winner "A Separation" made the cut, but China's Christian Bale-starrer, "Flowers of War," didn't make the cut, nor did Mexico's "Miss Bala."

The nine contenders include:

Belgium's "Bullhead," from director Michael R. Roskam

Canada's "Monsieur Lazhar," from director Philippe Falardeau

Denmark's "SuperClasico," from director Ole Christian Madsen

Germany's "Pina," from director Wim Wenders

Iran's "A Separation," from director Asghar Farhadi

Israel's "Footnote," from director Joseph Cedar

Morocco's "Omar Killed Me," from director Roschdy Zem

Poland's "In Darkness," from director Agnieszka Holland

Taiwan's "Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale," from director Wei Te-sheng

Several hundred Los Angeles-based members screened the 63 eligible films between mid-October and Jan. 13 and chose their six top films. The academy's Foreign Language Award Executive Committe then added three additional selections to fill out the ultimate shorlist.

Phase two of nominations will involve specially invited committees in New York and Los Angeles to spend Friday through Sunday viewing the three films each day and casting their ballots.

The five nominees will be announced Jan. 24.

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Photo credit: Star Peyman Moadi in the movie "A Separation," directed by Asghar Farhadi. Photo credit: Berlin International Film Festival.


Christian Bale, low-profile, until he's not. Just ask Zhang Yimou.

December 24, 2011 |  5:00 am

"The Flowers of War" star Christian Bale caused a significant media kerfuffle with the Chinese government this month when he attempted to visit a Chinese human rights activist.  The Foreign Ministry scolded him and said he should be "embarrassed," but so far director Zhang Yimou has been mum on the incident.

Zhang had nothing but praise for the Welsh-born actor during an interview this summer on the set of "Flowers," which stars Bale as an unlikely American hero during the 1937 Japanese raid of Nanjing, China.

"He has left a great impression on our team, such that we cannot stop praising him," Zhang told The Times' David Pierson in June while on location in Lishui County, southeast of Nanjing. "There are many things we Chinese need to learn from him: He is professional, down to earth, and he keeps a low profile." 

Zhang, the filmmaker behind Chinese classics such as "Hero" and "Raise the Red Lantern" and mastermind of the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympic Games, said that Bale also showed a great love for children while at work. "He loves children, and there are many children here on the set," Zhang said. "He simply couldn't act with children when they were crying."

You can read about it all in the transcript below. Or watch the video above, with Zhang speaking in Mandarin (and with English interpretation provided by Nicole Liu of The Times' Beijing bureau).

The film, China's submission for the foreign-language Oscar this year, opened Dec. 23.

Did you set out in the beginning to make a movie that would be an international hit? Is your decision to work with Christian Bale sort of indicative of that?

In fact, every story has its own structure, and it's not in anyone's hands to enlarge or reduce it. The original story and the adapted screenplay have a kind of international structure, which is why we thought of inviting a very good actor [from American films] to make the production of the film more on an international standard.

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'Flowers of War's' Zhang Yimou: Censorship limits Chinese films

December 23, 2011 | 10:35 pm

 

When director Zhang Yimou's "The Flowers of War" opened in Beijing earlier this month, star Christian Bale had to answer questions about whether the movie set amid the 1937 Japanese occupation of Nanjing is an anti-Japanese propaganda film -- an assertion he firmly rebutted. But perhaps a bigger question surrounding the movie, or any mainland Chinese production for that matter, is how much of an influence  government censorship has in its making.  

During a June interview on set, Zhang told the Los Angeles Times' David Pierson that while he expected total artistic freedom during the making of the movie, he also felt Chinese censorship limits filmmakers' options.

"In China there is a censorship system; directors don’t have 100% space of freedom," Zhang said while on location in Lishui County, southeast of Nanjing. "In fact, it’s more often the case that many stories cannot be made into film. I wish there would be more space given to artists with the development of the Chinese market. I wish there would be many good stories available for film directors."

Adapted from the novel "13 Flowers of Nanjing" by Geling Yan, "The Flowers of War" features Bale playing an American mortician who arrives in Nanjing to make a quick buck. But after seeing the horrors of war, he dons priest’s robes to try to protect schoolgirls and courtesans. The film, China's submission for the foreign-language Oscar this year, opens Dec. 23.

For more about the topic of Chinese censorship from Zhang, the director of films such as "Hero" and "Raise the Red Lantern" and the 2008 Olympic Games' opening ceremony, read the transcript below. Or watch the video above, with Zhang speaking in Mandarin (and with English interpretation provided by Nicole Liu of The Times' Beijing bureau).

Chinese films have struggled a lot in the international market, and the U.S. market specifically. What do you think is holding back Chinese films today? Is it scriptwriting, piracy or even censorship?

It is a complicated problem. There isn't a very good prescription for it right now. I personally believe the most important thing is there are not many good films. By definition, good films mean good stories that people all over the world can understand and be touched by. These kinds of powerful films are very few. Often there are films that are very regionalized or simplified that people don't understand or aren't moved by.

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