International Oscar Showdown 2012: The Artist vs A Separation

The 84th Academy Awards winners for Best Picture and Best International Feature Film were The Artist and A Separation

I may not know art…

I only saw The Artist for the first time recently, despite having owned it for many years. Something about it had always put me off — so I was happy to discover it wasn’t the serious, sombre movie I had conjured in my head. Instead, it’s a joyous homage to the glory days of silent cinema, and radiates palpable admiration.

Michel Hazanavicius’s The Artist

Nice face!

Fair to say, George and Pepper have excellent faces… I know that sounds reductive — I should be talking about performance, emotion, passion — but there’s a sharpness to the features of Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo that lends itself well to 1920s stars of the silver screen. They look gloriously vintage; from George’s manly cleft chin and playful grin, to the high-cheekboned smile and bright, inquisitive eyes of Pepper. They look perfect for the parts, and radiate charisma.

John Goodman’s face is also a marvel

Sentimental cinema

The story is a little predictable, and the film’s appeal is rather dependant on cinephiles lapping up the idolisation of a dormant art form, but it is expertly crafted and could pass for a genuine ninety-year-old film (if it weren’t for Goodman, MacDowell and the odd flourish of artistic sound design).

Separate ways

Up against The Artist is 2012's winner of best Foreign Language Film, A Separation — and the first successful entry for Iran. Not long after, its director, Asghar Farhadi, would go on to win the award for a second time in 2017 with The Salesman (reviewed here).

Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation

Familial thriller

The titular separation is but a catalyst for a series of events that spiral out of control. It all stems from the carer whom Nader hires to look after his father, once Simin has moved out to her mother’s. There’s a clear class divide between the middle-class couple — a bank manager and a teacher — and the hired help, Razieh (a much more religious woman from a poor part of Tehran), and her unemployed, terminally indebted husband Hojjat.

Censor shirker

All the while, Iran’s conservatism is repeatedly laid bare, though Farhadi refrains from open criticism. He simply portrays plausible situations, and lets them speak for themselves. Most of these moral quandaries are born of the repressed relationship between men and women — no touching, no working without a man’s permission, no divorce unless the husband accepts, and so on.

Retrospective result

This was one of the trickier match-ups, though my gut instinct is to give it to the Iranian film. The Artist is a delightful, exquisitely crafted movie, and a refreshing change from the modern fare — albeit a refresh of an extinct format — but it didn’t grab me or affect me in any meaningful way, besides instilling a sense of phantom nostalgia for a world I never knew and would likely find extremely irritating were it the norm.

Writer of stories, movie reviews, and sundry other whims. Also a sub-editor, so you are welcome to shout at me about typos.

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