Israelis' curiosity piqued by Iranian domestic drama
Israeli interest in 'A Separation' was piqued by the rare glimpse it offered into the living rooms of a country they regard as a threat to their very survival.
Israeli newspapers warn daily of the Iranian nuclear threat, but for the past week and a half, Israelis filmgoers have packed movie theaters to watch "A Separation," the domestic drama directed by Iranian Asghar Farhadi which bested the Israel offering and three others to win the award for best foreign film at Sunday's Oscars.
While Israelis were rooting hard for their own Oscar contender, Joseph Cedar's "Footnote," their interest in "A Separation" was piqued by the rare glimpse it offered into the living rooms of a country they regard as a threat to their very survival.
"It's very well acted, exceptionally well written and very moving," said Yair Raveh, a film critic for entertainment magazine, Pnai Plus. "Ultimately you don't think about nuclear bombs or dictators threatening world peace. You see them driving cars and going to movies and they look exactly like us."
"A Separation" takes viewers far away from the nuclear showdown, chronicling the drama of an Iranian woman who wants to divorce her husband because he refuses to move abroad with her, preferring to stay behind to tend to his ailing father.
The Oscar buzz, the faceoff with an Israeli contender and glowing reviews have drawn an impressive 30,000 Israeli filmgoers since "A Separation" opened here in mid-February.
Ticket buyers stood in a long line on Sunday night at the Lev Smadar movie theater in Jerusalem. Omer Dilian, manager of the theater's cafe, said "A Separation" has drawn hundreds of viewers, even on weeknights.
Rina Brick, 70, said she was surprised by the humaneness of the Iranian bureaucrats portrayed in the film.
"Our image of how Iran works is less democratic than we see here," she said. "The judge, the police, everyone behaves as if they are in a Western country."
Rivka Cohen left Iran at age 15. Now 78, Cohen said she was struck by Tehran's modernity, which jarred with the image of black-clad women and religious conservatism that has become iconic of Iran.
"I was surprised by the way people lived in their houses," Cohen said. "Everyone had a fridge and a washing machine."
"A Separation" is shown mostly at the seven theaters owned by Lev Cinemas. Lev Cinemas CEO Guy Shani said the heated atmosphere over Iran's nuclear program has helped to draw viewers.
"We are being helped a lot by the press in Israel," Shani said. He said all the screenings in Lev theaters were sold out last Friday and Saturday.
"We like to take a look at what happens across the borders," Raveh said.
But the broader political context can never totally fade.
On Monday, Iranian state TV described the country's foreign film Oscar win as a victory over Israel.