Iran’s Oscar submission committee announced today that Majid Majidi’s Muhammad, the Messenger of God will be sent to the Academy for consideration in the best foreign language film category. The news is not a surprise to anyone who has been following Iranian cinema for the past year. Despite some strong competition from arthouse titles that had premiered at international festivals—including Melbourne, Fish & Cat, and What’s the Time in Your World?—the most expensive film in Iranian history was never going to be overlooked.
Majidi has pedigree with the Academy. His films have been submitted on four previous occasions, the first of which resulted in Iran’s first Oscar nomination back in 1998 for Children of Heaven. His latest film has been a topic of intense conversation and controversy since its production was announced. As the first part of a planned trilogy, Muhammad covers the first twelve years of the life of the prophet of Islam, and has caused a stir in Sunni Muslim countries, where depictions of the prophet are strictly prohibited.
Majidi’s epic reportedly cost around $40m, and boasts an impressive array of talent behind and in front of the camera. Oscar winners like cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (Apocalypse Now, Reds), composer A. R. Rahman (Slumdog Millionaire) and visual effects supervisor Scott E. Anderson (Babe) are joined by an impressive cast of Iranian stars that includes the likes of Sareh Bayat and Mehdi Pakdel. Yet, the film’s Oscar chances appear to be minimal. Whereas Iranian audiences have rewarded the film with the country’s highest opening weekend box office of all time and continue to fill the theaters, foreign critics seem less enamored. Variety, reviewing the film after its Montreal Film Festival international premiere, called it a “dull” and “lumbering” and reminiscent of 1950s Hollywood epics. Oscar has not been in the mood for such historical fare in a long time.