Aside from its infamous climax, when La-La Land was mistakenly announced as Best Picture instead of Moonlight, one of the more memorable moments from the 2017 Academy Awards was a speech from Asghar Farhadi after The Salesman won the Best Foreign Language Film award.
It was not only notable because of how elegantly the Iranian director argued how movies create empathy for foreign cultures — a sentiment that cannot be overstated in these troubling times — but also because Farhadi was not in attendance. Instead, Anousheh Ansari, an Iranian American engineer and executive, read the speech from the filmmaker, who boycotted the proceedings in solidarity with his fellow Iranians and Muslims included in President Trump’s original travel ban.
Madison audiences will have a chance to see The Salesman at this year’s Wisconsin Film Festival, which opens on March 30. The festival will also feature screenings of two other Oscar contenders, My Life as a Zucchini, a nominee for Best Animated Feature, and Things to Come, the latest film from Best Actress nominee Isabelle Huppert (Elle).
The Salesman is the story of a couple co-starring in a Tehran production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, torn apart when the husband tries to discover the truth about an assault on his wife. It is also one of the biggest film hits in Iranian history.
Since the Best Animated Feature Film Oscar was introduced to the awards in 2001, it has reliably been one of the more fascinating categories. The nominees demonstrate the endless possibilities of cartoons, even though the winner is predictable — usually a Pixar or Disney title. This year, it was Disney’s Zootopia. But the other nominees ran the gamut from the crowd-pleasing Moana to the stop-motion miracle Kubo and the Two Strings and the Swiss/French oddity My Life as a Zucchini.
Zucchini, the tale of a boy adjusting to life in an orphanage, had no hope of winning an Academy Award. Its victory was the nomination itself. Thanks to that, the world outside French-speaking Europe knows this bittersweet comedy exists. The Wisconsin Film Festival will have screenings in both in its original French (as Ma Vie de Courgette) and English.
Things to Come
There are the Best Actress Oscar nominees who give some of the best performances of the year, and then there are actual best actresses who give great performances every chance they get — decade after decade — for a lifetime. That’s Isabelle Huppert. She’s the reason Madison audiences should rush to secure tickets for Things to Come, where she plays a woman shaken back to life after divorce. Huppert is no stranger to Madison screens: She was featured in last year’s Valley of Love and Louder Than Bombs. She could have been nominated for either of these, but instead got the nod for her work in the dark revenge comedy Elle.
Like Zucchini and The Salesman, Things to Come epitomizes Farhadi’s Oscar night speech. Film, he wrote, “captures shared human qualities...[and] creates empathy between us and others — an empathy we need today more than ever.”