The hunt for Oscars takes on a new meaning in this charming Iranian comedy from Hassan Nazer, which takes a personal view of his home country, and cinema in general. The title refers to the film’s object of obsession: an Oscar, recently won by an Iranian filmmaker but left in a taxi while transporting it back from the states. Through a series of mishaps, it ends up in the hands of Yahya (Parsa Maghami), a nine-year-old boy who adores movies but has no idea of the importance of the “doll” in his possession. Along with his friend, he fights to keep hold of the shiny object while trying to work out how it can help his struggling family.
The themes of this independent gem are both universal and localised. Anyone who grew up pre-streaming can appreciate Yahya’s desperate hunger for elusive DVDs, hearing about classics from his employer Saber (Hossein Abedini) who teases him with forthcoming loans (“anyone who watches Cinema Paradiso falls in love with it”). However, there’s also a frustration in the storytelling that feels colloquial. Most of the characters aren’t aware of the award’s significance (the taxi driver describes it as “a man standing politely”), making a wider comment about the success of the country’s film industry outside of the festival circuit. We are also led into a world of child labour, and the questionable figures who run operations that see youngsters rifling through garbage mountains.
Still, Nazer keeps things light, showing the world through the eyes of an eager child and filling each scene with affectionate references to films of the past. It is as much a love letter to the films that inspired him as it is a socio-political commentary, fuelled by the charm of the personable cast. Maghami is a delightful protagonist, sparring with Abedini on many occasions and forming a precocious duo with Helia Mohammadkhani, who plays Yahya’s friend Layla. Mohammad Amir Naji, himself an award winner for 2008’s The Song of Sparrows, plays Saber’s partner, an older man who is not all he seems.
All come together to make Winners an entertaining adventure that has a lot going on beneath the surface. A story of magic being found in the most unlikely of places, the shining gold statuette at the centre of the piece provides a stark contrast that will make you think as well as smile. \
Winners shows at the 30th Raindance Film Festival.