A brief groan of disappointment swept through the crowd of some 200 Israelis gathered at a Westside hotel with the announcement that the Iranian entry, “A Separation,” had beaten out four other finalists to win the Oscar for best foreign-language film.
Among the runner-ups was Israel’s contender, “Footnote,” which depicted the rivalry between a father and son, both talmudic scholars, and Poland’s “In Darkness,” a Holocaust-themed film about a dozen Jews hiding in underground sewers during the Nazi occupation of Poland.
An Israeli movie has made the elite list of five Oscar finalists in four of the last five years, but without garnering the top prize.
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This year’s outcome was a repeat for Joseph Cedar, director-writer of “Footnote,” whose war film “Beaufort” suffered the same fate in 2007.
However, tribal pride was somewhat salvaged by the impressive triumph of “The Artist,” a black-and-white homage to Hollywood’s silent-film era, which won five Oscars, including those for best picture, director, actor, costume design and original musical score, at the Feb. 26 Academy Awards ceremonies.
“The Artist” director Michel Hazanavicius is a French Jew, who told The Journal’s Danielle Berrin that his parents and grandparents survived the Nazi occupation by hiding in the French countryside.
Producer Thomas Langmann is the son of famed French director Claude Berri, whose parents were Eastern European Jews and whose first film, “The Two of Us,” dealt with a French Jewish boy hiding from the Nazis.
In addition, the veteran Woody Allen won the golden statuette — as always, in absentia — for his original screenplay for “Midnight in Paris.”
Asghar Farhadi, director-writer of “A Separation,” which centered on the conflict of a husband and wife in a complex and difficult society, struck a note of international conciliation in his acceptance speech.
He spoke of his country’s “rich and ancient culture that has been hidden under the heavy dust of politics” and of his countrymen as “people who respect all cultures and civilizations and despise hostility and resentment.”
In a backstage interview, Farhadi heaped special praise on Poland’s Agnieszka Holland, the half-Jewish director of the Holocaust-era “In Darkness,” describing her as “a great director, a great filmmaker and a great human being.”
The Oscars night viewing party was hosted by the Israeli consulate and the Israeli Leadership Council (ILC), and while guests acknowledged some sense of disappointment at the Israeli entry’s outcome, most tried to look at the bright side.
Israeli Consul General David Siegel noted that Israeli movies and television programs were showing the world that “Israel is not just about conflict but has become a fountainhead of creative talent. … We’re now the people of the book and of the film.”
Documentary filmmaker Dan Katzir sounded a similar note of optimism, observing that “with each year, Israel gets closer to winning an Oscar.”
Eli Teme, co-chair of the ILC, said that Israel had been honored by just placing among the five nominees and expressed the hope that Iran, having been recognized by the American movie industry, might feel a bit warmer toward the West.
Another guest was John Fishel, who served as the long-time president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and will chair the upcoming Jewish Film Festival.
“I can only say that Israel has come a long way,” Fishel said admiringly.