TEHRAN - Iran trumpeted the Islamic Republic's first foreign film Oscar win Monday as a triumph over archfoe Israel - even as audiences in Israel packed theaters to watch the movie that beat their country's entry at the Academy Awards.
The groundbreaking success of "A Separation," which tells the story of a failing marriage, was cast mostly in nationalist terms by Iranian authorities amid a mounting showdown between Israel and its Western allies over Tehran's disputed nuclear program.
Yet the high-profile attention by Iran's Islamic leadership also represents a rare stamp of approval on the country's movie industry, which collects awards and accolades worldwide but is often dismissed by hard-liners at home as dominated by Western-tainted liberals and political dissenters.
The Israeli film "Footnote" was in the competition against director Asghar Farhadi's movie, which explores troubles in Iranian society through the story of a marriage in collapse. Many Iranian hard-liners objected to the themes of domestic turmoil, gender inequality and the desire by many Iranians to leave the country.
But Farhadi, in his acceptance speech in Los Angeles, said he hoped the Oscar would raise awareness of Iran's artistic achievements and rich culture that has been "hidden under the heavy dust of politics."
Iranian cinema has reaped praise and prizes at international festivals such as Venice and Cannes for decades.
The government, while it highlights sporting achievements and technological leaps as a source of national pride, has often been dismissive of international cultural and entertainment awards.
But Iranian state media used the Oscar-winning film to trumpet a success over Israel. The state TV broadcast said the award succeeded in "leaving behind" a film from the "Zionist regime."
Javad Shamaghdari, head of Iran's Cinematic Agency, portrayed the Oscar decision as the "beginning of the collapse" of Israeli influence that "beats the drum of war" in the United States.
In Israel, however, the film has been a hit despite the daily headlines in Israeli newspapers warning of the Iranian nuclear threat.
"A Separation" tells the story of a couple heading for divorce and dealing with domestic troubles, including a young child and an aging parent. It portrays a husband who is protective of his father who is suffering from Alzheimer's. He is in conflict with his wife, who wishes to emigrate.
Iranian TV did not broadcast the Academy Awards live, but many Iranians watched through satellite dishes, which are illegal but widely used. State TV later aired clips of Farhadi's acceptance speech.
Iranian artists and the public were delighted by the win.
Tahmineh Milani, director of the acclaimed 2005 film "Unwanted Woman," said the Oscar was a source of "national pride." She said the award "revived hope in the hearts of all Iranians."
Nima Behdadi Mehr, a cinema columnist in pro-reform Mardomsalari daily, believed the award "would help Iranian cinema to come out of its isolation." But ultraconservatives denigrated the film as a slap at the country.
Ebrahim Fayyaz, a prominent hardline sociologist, told the Nasim news website that "A Separation" is one of the worst Iranian films.
He said it was a "black realistic film" that portrays the country as an old man, as a symbol of tradition and the past, afflicted with Alzheimer's. He said the movie suggests emigrating to the West as a solution.
"The West awards movies that are in the direction of their policies," he said.
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