One of the least talked about categories at the Oscars is the one set aside for foreign language films. But in a year where two of the nominated films are from countries on the brink of war, maybe we should pay it a bit more attention.
BY RUSS FINKELSTEIN
Yesterday, Israeli President Shimon Peres said that his government has left all options on the table in order to defend itself from nuclear threats. This all comes three weeks after US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that he believed Israel is likely to attack Iran in April, May or June.
It’s easy in this sort of media landscape to lose sight of what is actually at stake here. A war between Israel and Iran could be devastating for the millions of people who live in those countries.
A couple of films nominated for this year’s Academy Awards could give audiences intimate glimpses into the humanity behind the brinkmanship.
The Iranian entry for best foreign language film is called A Separation. Many critics have penciled it in as a favorite. A Separation is a fast-paced modern drama that depicts a family coming undone. Iran has a rich cinematic history, though filmmakers there tend to avoid sensitive subjects like politics and religion to get their productions past government censorship. A Separation does a superb job of just that. It intimately depicts a heated feud between two families on either side of the economic and religious spectrum in modern-day Tehran.
It’s Israeli counterpart is titled Footnote. It’s a black comedy that also depicts a family in crisis. The plot focuses on the idea of legacy as it relates to a father and his son, both of whom are Jewish theological scholars. When a major Academic honor intended for the film’s protagonist Uriel is mistakenly given to his father, an existential and familial dilemma ensues.
Israel has been nominated for more Oscars than any other country in the Middle-East, though a good number of the country’s acclaimed films deal in some way or another with the Israeli-Arab conflict. Footnote does not.
In fact, neither of these films deals directly with the issues that have their countries in the headlines.
Americans seem to prefer movies like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part Two, which earned about $381 million last year at American box offices. That’s a lot, especially when you consider that the highest grossing foreign language film last year brought in under $8 million. That film was Sarah’s Key from France, and you probably never heard of it. I hadn’t.
Both A Separation and Footnote have limited releases around the Oscars. A Separation is in theaters now, and Footnote will be released in the U.S. March 9th. Go see them. It will give you a better sense of what Iran and Israel are like far beyond what you will ever read in the newspaper. These films will be in theaters for a limited time only, Go see them before it’s too late.