Iran film for Oscars stirs debate on home front

“No Date, No Signature,” won best director at Venice last year. (AFP)
Updated 20 September 2018

Iran film for Oscars stirs debate on home front

  • The Farabi Cinema Foundation tasked with selecting Iran’s contestant for the best foreign-language film category has announced its choice of “No Date, No Signature,” which won best director and best actor at the 2017 Venice Film Festival

TEHRAN: The Iranian film for next year’s Oscars has stirred controversy at home both over the choice of a downbeat movie and for taking part in the Hollywood spectacle at a time of tense Tehran-Washington ties.

The Farabi Cinema Foundation tasked with selecting Iran’s contestant for the best foreign-language film category has announced its choice of “No Date, No Signature,” which won best director and best actor at the 2017 Venice Film Festival.

Vahid Jalilvand’s film, which has scooped a host of other awards aboard, tells the tale of two men tormented by guilt over the death of a boy in a road accident, set against a background of social injustice.

“Every year the same debate surfaces over whether or not to submit a film” for the contest in Hollywood, Farabi said last Friday while naming its choice.

The US decision to pull out of the nuclear accord with the Islamic republic and to reimpose sanctions this year has “led certain parties to propose a boycott of the Oscars,” it said, referring to Iran’s conservative camp.

Defending its participation, the foundation said that members of the Academy which organizes the event were among leading critics of “the populist government of (President Donald) Trump and of its policies tainted with racism and unilateralism.” 

The choice of “No Date, No Signature” was vindicated by its success abroad and “the efforts of its distributor” to bring the movie to screens in the US, Farabi said.

But the ultra-conservative press was unimpressed.

“Like the strategy used by Trump in interviews and tweets to depict Iran as a nation abandoned by hope and mired in poverty and misery, ‘No Date, No Signature’, a most bitter and dark film, has been chosen for the Oscars,” Javan newspaper said in a commentary.

It said the foundation had squandered “a golden opportunity” to enlighten the outside world on the values of Iran by nominating another movie, “Damascus Time,” on its battle against jihadists in Syria.

Director Ebrahim Hatamikia’s film, funded by the Revolutionary Guards, the country’s ideological army, has been a hit at the Tehran box office.

After three films were shortlisted from a 110-strong field, “the decisive factor that made ‘No Date, No Signature’ the best choice was its professional and effective foreign distributor which the others did not have,” said Houshang Golmakani, a critic with “Film Magazine,” a monthly on Iranian movies he co-founded.

The subject matter makes it “a caustic film” as regards its portrayal of life in Iran, he told AFP. “But art is not a matter of touting for your country.”

In 2017, Iranian director Asghar Farhadi won his second Oscar for best foreign movie with “The Salesman,” but he boycotted the awards ceremony in Los Angeles in protest at Trump’s controversial policies on immigration.


Did Neanderthals bury their dead with flowers? Iraq cave yields new clues

The bones of a Neanderthal's left hand emerging from the sediment in Shanidar Cave in northern Iraq, is seen in an undated photo. (REUTERS)
Updated 15 min 26 sec ago

Did Neanderthals bury their dead with flowers? Iraq cave yields new clues

  • Remains of 10 Neanderthals - seven adults and three infants - were dug up there six decades ago, offering insight into the physical characteristics, behavior and diet of this species

WASHINGTON: A Neanderthal skeleton unearthed in an Iraqi cave already famous for fossils of these extinct cousins of our species is providing fresh evidence that they buried their dead — and intriguing clues that flowers may have been used in such rituals.
Scientists said on Tuesday they had discovered in Shanidar Cave in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region of northern Iraq the well-preserved upper body skeleton of an adult Neanderthal who lived about 70,000 years ago. The individual — dubbed Shanidar Z — was perhaps in his or her 40s or 50s. The sex was undetermined.
The cave was a pivotal site for mid-20th century archaeology. Remains of 10 Neanderthals — seven adults and three infants — were dug up there six decades ago, offering insight into the physical characteristics, behavior and diet of this species.
Clusters of flower pollen were found at that time in soil samples associated with one of the skeletons, a discovery that prompted scientists involved in that research to propose that Neanderthals buried their dead and conducted funerary rites with flowers.
That hypothesis helped change the prevailing popular view at the time of Neanderthals as dimwitted and brutish, a notion increasingly discredited by new discoveries. Critics cast doubt, however, on the “flower burial,” arguing the pollen could have been modern contamination from people working and living in the cave or from burrowing rodents or insects.
But Shanidar Z’s bones, which appear to be the top half of a partial skeleton unearthed in 1960, were found in sediment containing ancient pollen and other mineralized plant remains, reviving the possibility of flower burials. The material is being examined to determine its age and the plants represented.
“So from initially being a skeptic based on many of the other published critiques of the flower-burial evidence, I am coming round to think this scenario is much more plausible and I am excited to see the full results of our new analyzes,” said University of Cambridge osteologist and paleoanthropologist Emma Pomeroy, lead author of the research published in the journal Antiquity.

COGNITIVE SOPHISTICATION
Scholars have argued for years about whether Neanderthals buried their dead with mortuary rituals much as our species does, part of the larger debate over their levels of cognitive sophistication.
“What is key here is the intentionality behind the burial. You might bury a body for purely practical reasons, in order to avoid attracting dangerous scavengers and/or to reduce the smell. But when this goes beyond practical elements it is important because that indicates more complex, symbolic and abstract thinking, compassion and care for the dead, and perhaps feelings of mourning and loss,” Pomeroy said.
Shanidar Z appears to have been deliberately placed in an intentionally dug depression cut into the subsoil and part of a cluster of four individuals.
“Whether the Neanderthal group of dead placed around 70,000 years ago in the cave were a few years, a few decades or centuries — or even millennia — apart, it seems clear that Shanidar was a special place, with bodies being placed just in one part of a large cave,” said University of Cambridge archaeologist and study co-author Graeme Barker.
Neanderthals — more robustly built than Homo sapiens and with larger brows — inhabited Eurasia from the Atlantic coast to the Ural Mountains from about 400,000 years ago until a bit after 40,000 years ago, disappearing after our species established itself in the region.
The two species interbred, with modern non-African human populations bearing residual Neanderthal DNA.
Shanidar Z was found to be reclining on his or her back, with the left arm tucked under the head and the right arm bent and sticking out to the side.