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‘The Artist’ salvages Jewish pride at Oscars

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LOS ANGELES (JTA) — Jewish director Michel Hazanavicius won top honors at the Oscars for "The Artist," while Israel’s entry in the awards, "Footnote" by Joseph Cedar, lost to an Iranian film.

“The Artist,” a black-and-white homage to Hollywood’s silent film era, won five Oscars — for best picture, director, actor, costume design and original musical score — at the ceremony Sunday at the Kodak Theater. 

Hazanavicius is a French Jew whose parents and grandparents survived the Nazi occupation by hiding in the French countryside. The film’s producer, Thomas Langmann, is the son of famed French director Claude Berri, whose parents were Eastern European Jews and whose first film, “Two of Us,” dealt with a French Jewish boy hiding from the Nazis.

In addition, veteran Woody Allen won the golden statuette — as always in absentia — for his original screenplay for “Midnight in Paris.”

“Footnote,” which depicted the rivalry between father-and-son Talmudic scholars, lost out in the best foreign-language film category to the Iranian entry, “A Separation.” An Israeli movie has made the list of five Oscar finalists in four of the last five years but without garnering the top prize. Also falling short in the category was Poland’s “In Darkness,” a Holocaust-era film about a dozen Jews hiding in underground sewers during the Nazi occupation of Poland.

Director-writer Asghar Farhadi 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 director of “In Darkness,” describing her as “a great director, a great filmmaker and a great human being.” Holland’s Jewish father’s parents were killed in the Warsaw Ghetto. Her mother was a Catholic who fought in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising and was a member of the Polish Underground.

A Sunday night viewing party hosted by the Israeli Consulate and the Israel Leadership Council brought together some 200 Israelis at an Los Angeles-area hotel, and while guests acknowledged some sense of disappointment at the Oscar 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." He added, "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.”
 

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