- Associated Press - Sunday, February 26, 2012

In a humble speech amid tense times, Asghar Farhadi accepted Iran’s first Oscar for best foreign film as a chance to celebrate a culture “hidden under the heavy dust of politics.”

It was a stirring reminder, instantly hailed at the Los Angeles ceremony and around the globe, of the human side behind rising geopolitical animosity.

The acclaimed domestic drama “A Separation” is the first Iranian film to win the award. The only other Iranian movie ever nominated was 1997’s “Children of Heaven,” which was defeated by Italy’s “Life Is Beautiful.”

Writer-director Farhadi alluded to the tensions over his home country.

Amid talk of “war, intimidation and aggression” among politicians, he said, Iran is “spoken here through her glorious culture, a rich and ancient culture that has been hidden under the heavy dust of politics.”

With his daughter, Sarina Farhadi, who co-stars in the film, looking on from the audience, Farhadi added: “I proudly offer this award to the people of my country, the people who respect all cultures and civilizations and despise hostility and resentment.”

Tensions between the West and Iran have risen in recent months over Tehran’s nuclear program. Iran denies Western claims that it seeks to develop atomic weapons, and says its disputed nuclear program is designed to produce energy and medical isotopes.

But Iranian cinema has for years been among the most exciting in the world, notably including the films of Abbas Kiarostami and Majid Majidi.

In Iran, followers of Iranian state TV said the Oscar win shows the world-class talent and sophistication in the Islamic Republic even as it confronts the West over its nuclear program. Comments and Twitter messages posted on Press TV’s website expressed hope that the award could help show the common ground between the U.S. and Iran.

The widely-hailed “A Separation” was so roundly supported by the academy that it was also nominated for a best screenplay Oscar _ a rarity for a foreign film. It also won best foreign film at the Golden Globes.

Though the film, made under Iranian sensors, isn’t overly political, it deeply explores the complex social and religious codes of contemporary Iranian society. The film begins with the divorce dispute between a husband (Peyman Moadi) and wife (Leila Hatami), a situation that becomes far thornier when an argument leads to criminal charges.

This year’s Oscars took on a broadly international flavor, particularly given that the best picture favorite, “The Artist,” is in most ways a French film, made by a French director (Michael Hazanavicius) and starring a French actor (Jean Dujardin).

The Mexican actor Demian Bichir was also nominated for best actor for his performance in the immigrant drama “A Better Life,” and the Spanish film “Chico and Rita” was nominated for best animated film.

In all, 63 films were submitted for this year’s foreign language film category, a nomination process that has often been criticized for leaving out critical favorites. In recent years, an executive committee was added to the multi-step process, which can add movies to those selected by the judging body.

Few founded major fault with this year’s selections, though there were quibbles over the absence of the Turkish film “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia,” the Finnish submission “Le Havre” and Pedro Almodovar’s “The Skin I Live In,” which Spain opted not to submit.

The other nominees were Michael R. Roskam’s crime drama “Bullhead” from Belgium; Philippe Falardeau’s immigrant substitute teacher tale “Monsieur Lazhar” from Canada; Joseph Cedar’s Talmudic scholar saga “Footnote” from Israel; and Agnieszka Holland’s World War II drama “In Darkness” from Poland.

Last year, Denmark’s submission, “In a Better World,” directed by Susanne Bier, was the winner.

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