If you were still in any doubt that Asghar Farhadi’s superb Iranian marital drama “A Separation” is this year’s Chosen One on the world cinema circuit, there was further confirmation this week, as the film scooped the annual BBC Four World Cinema Award, handed annually by rotating jury of film and arts luminaries to what they perceive as the standout non-English-language film of the year.
The award itself is a modest one, but it has a habit of going to consensus critical champions. Previous winners include “The White Ribbon,” “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” and “Pan’s Labyrinth.” Juries here clearly aren’t encouraged to surprise with against-the-grain choices, nor should they be.
“A Separation” is clearly, and deservedly, now in that elevated league of approval, despite its lesser-known auteur and more modest origins: it’s the first winner of the award since “Downfall” in 2006 not to have debuted at Cannes. (If the success of Farhadi’s film has taught us anything this year, it’s that people should pay closer attention to the Berlinale in February.) An Oscar nomination is expected — should the general branch members not vote it in, there’ll be critical hell to pay if the executive committee doesn’t save it — though I’m still not counting on the soft-centered voting contingent giving this thorny moral study the win.
Looking at the films it beat to the World Cinema Award, one can’t imagine the jury — headed this year by playwright and Oscar-nominated screenwriter David Hare, with filmmaker Gurdinder Chadha and novelist Kazuo Ishiguro also in the mix — had to sweat to hard over this decision. “The Skin I Live In,” “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives,” “Of Gods and Men” and “Le Quattro Volte” may all have their champions, but none have united opinion to the same extent as Farhadi’s film, the humanism and structural sophistication of which is very tough to argue against. Including the likes of “Poetry,” “Tomboy” or “Miss Bala” would have made for a stronger shortlist, I think, but I can’t see how the outcome would have been any different.
Meanwhile, in another pretty inarguable decision, Isabelle Huppert won the World Cinema Achievement Award. Huzzah. I doubt her trophy cabinet was looking particularly lonely, but there aren’t really enough awards to give one of our greatest working actors. Anyone want to tell that to the Academy?