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The Guardian

Winners review – Oscar statuette goes missing in free-spirited ode to Iranian cinema

By Peter Bradshaw,

2023-03-14
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Awestruck … Parsa Maghami and Helia Mohammadkhani in Winners. Photograph: Edge City Films

This film from British Iranian director Hassan Nazer was the British entry in the international feature section at this year’s Academy Awards; sadly it was not nominated. It is a likable, gentle comedy about two children in which an Oscar statuette plays a part: the ultimate MacGuffin, perhaps. It’s also a rather cinephile film which ponders the enormous prestige of Iranian cinema abroad.

The premise is that the great Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, having boycotted the 2017 Oscars in protest at Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim travel ban, cannot be there in person to pick up his Oscar for The Salesman . But the producer bringing it to Iran for him manages to lose it after a chaotic mishap involving a taxi (that key trope of contemporary Iranian cinema) and, once handed to the authorities, the Oscar is boxed up to be sent on to him via the mail. Then a local postman loses it and the gleaming, mysteriously exotic and heavy statuette is finally discovered on a dusty road by two little kids, Yahya (Parsa Maghami) and Leyla (Helia Mohammadkhani) who are profoundly, almost religiously awestruck by their secret find.

Yahya in fact knows a thing or two about cinema, having been educated by the film-loving guy running the local scrap-metal yard, for whom they scavenge material from the dump. This is Saber (Hossein Abedini), a former actor; his mate Naser is also in the business, having actually won the Silver Bear acting award at the Berlin film festival in 2008. He is wittily played by Reza Naji, who did indeed win this prize, and Naser now can’t come to terms with the massive anti-climax of his post-award life.

Like many “magic of the movies” films there is something a little prescriptive about it and I have to confess my heart sinks at people going dewy-eyed about Cinema Paradiso, however sincerely. But I liked the free-spirited innocence here, and the film has something of British classics such as Local Hero or Whisky Galore.

• Winners is released on 17 March in UK and Irish cinemas.

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