Iranians reacted with pride on Monday after an Iranian film, A Separation, won a major US prize -- a triumph on the international stage that, for a moment, eclipsed geopolitical tensions.
Its victory at Hollywood's Golden Globes, where director Asghar Farhadi picked up the award for best foreign-language movie from pop star Madonna late Sunday, lit up Iranians' messages on online social networks.
This award "is the cause of pride for all Iranians all over the world," said one Facebook user, Iman, 29. "OMG...! I still cant believe that Farhadi got the Globe from Madonna! Now I really envy him. Congratulations to everyone!" said another, Mehrdad, 33. Few Iranian media carried reports on the win on Monday, mainly because the Golden Globes took place well after newspaper deadlines.
A Separation is Iran's official entry for the Oscars next month, where another trophy -- already tipped by many of the world's leading film critics -- would be a cultural coup for this country at a time it is facing an intense Western campaign to isolate it politically.
Iran's government initially slapped a ban on the movie as it was being made because Farhadi voiced support for fellow filmmakers labelled by authorities as "anti-regime". But, following an apology from Farhadi that permitted "A Separation" to be completed, Tehran has come to embrace the movie, strengthening support for it as it picked up award after award in international festivals.
The film recounts the story of a couple estranged because of differences over whether to leave Iran, who become embroiled in a nasty dispute with a domestic worker. The tale builds smartly to become an engrossing look at the societal pressures ensnaring all the protagonists as they navigate a minefield of lies.
A Separation is seen to be a frontrunner for the best foreign-language Oscar at the US Academy Awards on February 26, with critics raving about its humanity and its sharp portrayal of the Iran that exists beyond the grim news headlines.
The attention it is earning, though, is also bringing into focus the trials of the overall Iranian film industry, which has become increasingly restricted in the past three years, since the disputed 2009 re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Authorities in Iran this month dissolved the country's main film industry guild, the House of Cinema, despite an outcry from several renowned Iranian directors. The decision came after the government felt the guild was politicising certain events, such as allowing filmmakers to express critical views of the regime at its annual festival. The official reason given was that the House of Cinema had changed its founding statutes without consulting authorities.
Farhadi has voiced support for his colleagues in the guild, who are trying to have the dissolution reversed. The row has added to other difficulties Iran's cinema industry is encountering.
One of Iran's most famous filmmakers, Jafar Panahi, has been sentenced to jail and given a 20-year ban on making movies for a 2009 documentary he tried to film on the widespread unrest following Ahmadinejad's re-election. Several documentary makers accused of working with the BBC, were also arrested late last year, then released.