Iran has selected Houman Seyyedi’s Venice Festival award winner World War III to represent the country in the 2023 Oscar race in the best international feature category.
The absurdist drama stars Mohsen Tanabandeh as a day laborer who, after losing his wife in a horrible catastrophe, finds himself surprisingly cast to play Adolf Hitler in an Iranian-shot, German-set World War II film. World War III premiered in the Venice Horizons sidebar, where it won best film and best actor honors for Seyyedi and Tanabandeh.
Iran’s selection committee said the decision to pick Seyyedi’s film was “unanimous.” In a statement, the committee said they “salute the Persian cinema family” and wished “ever-increasing success for all artists in our beloved country.”
Iran has had considerable Oscar success, with 5 Oscar nominations and 2 wins: for Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation (2011) and The Salesman (2016). But the nomination comes amid a harsh crackdown on dissident directors by the hardline government of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi.
In July, authorities arrested three prominent directors: Mostafa Aleahmad (2009’s Poosteh), 2020 Berlin’s Golden Bear winner Mohammad Rasoulof (There Is No Evil) and Jafar Panahi, winner of Venice’s Golden Lion for Dayereh (2000) and of Berlin’s Golden Bear for Taxi (2015).
On the Venice red carpet this year, festival jury head Julianne Moore joined activists from the International Coalition Filmmakers at Risk (ICFR) in a flash mob to call for the release of Panahi, whose latest feature, No Bears, screened in competition on the Lido.
The clampdown on freedom of expression in Iran comes amid a broader government crackdown on popular protests about a range of issues, including the cost-of-living crisis, stricter dress codes for women and the government’s handling of a deadly building collapse.