Edinburgh Film Festival Review: Hassan Nazer’s ‘Winners’

·2 min read

An Oscar statue goes missing in Hassan Nazer’s amiable feature Winners, which had its world premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival.

After the Oscar is inadvertently left in a taxi in Iran, the prize is sent to the post office, where it’s once again lost by a well-meaning postal worker. While he insists that it must have fallen out of his car in a rural location, the authorities insist that the man is detained, assuming theft, until the statue is located. And so there’s a ripple of urgency running through this otherwise gently paced comedy-drama.

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It’s no spoiler to reveal that the Oscar ends up in the hands of two children: nine-year-old Yahya and his friend Leyla. We’re let in on their secret as they hide the “doll” from their friends and, amusingly, put it in a dress to preserve its modesty (“It’s so Leyla won’t see him naked,” explains the boy). Their efforts to sell the find are thwarted: such items are of no use to the locals.

As the identity of certain townspeople is revealed, this statue becomes symbolic of the chasm between them and the film industry at large. One, Naser Khan (The Song of Sparrows’ Reza Naji), is a recluse who was once made famous by his role in an award-winning movie. He curses the day he took the part, claiming that fame made everyone expect him to be generous with his presumed wealth — but he wasn’t even paid for the film. In a nod to actor Naji’s real-life accomplishments, a Silver Bear lurks in a box in his humble home, along with old classics like Cinema Paradiso and Taxi Driver. The loan of these films fuels Yahya’s love for cinema — something his mother strongly discourages.

On the one hand, Winners, from Scotland-based Iranian Nazer, is an ode to cinema and the joys it brings, and it also pays tribute to the great achievements of Iranian filmmakers, dedicating the work to Abbas Kiarostami, Asghar Farhadi, Majid Maijdi and Jafar Panahi.

But it also highlights the contrast between film festival plaudits and real life: what the cast and crew are left with once the party’s over. This sense of self awareness increases during the movie’s meta conclusion — but the overall tone remains genial and upbeat. Winners may not have Oscar potential itself, but it’s likely to win over audiences and leave them with a smile.

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