Iranian drama is film to beat at Berlin festival

Fri Feb 18, 2011 7:06pm EST
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By Mike Collett-White

BERLIN (Reuters) - Iranian drama "Nader and Simin: A Separation" is the title to beat as this year's Berlin film festival heads toward the closing ceremony on Saturday where the coveted Golden Bear for best picture is handed out.

A subtle and gripping examination of Iran's social divide, religious traditions and justice system, Asghar Farhadi's portrayal of the break-up of a marriage has won almost universal praise from critics at the annual cinema showcase.

What critics say and judges decide often differ, however, making it an unpredictable event often full of surprises.

In Nader and Simin, one family is pitted against another in a gripping legal tussle which Farhadi said underscored the gap between middle class "intellectuals" and poorer, traditional Iranians whose religious beliefs tended to be more entrenched.

"One (undercurrent in Iranian society) is the struggle between the classes -- between the poor, who are more traditional and religious, and the other class which wants to live according to modern rules," he said in Berlin.

"It's a somewhat hidden struggle between the old and new in our society. It will cost our society dear."

While many of the 16 films in the main competition line-up were seen as forgettable, it only takes one or two strong contenders to light up a festival like Berlin, and Nader and Simin provided that spark.

It also fits in neatly with what some German media have dubbed an "Iranian Berlinale," after the festival opened with calls for Iran to allow director Jafar Panahi to travel to Berlin and accept his invitation to sit on the jury.   Continued...