Weeks after Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called Israel a "cancer tumor" in the latest rhetorical salvo of hatred from the leaders of the Islamic Republic, Asghar Farhadi presented a decidedly different portrait of their country. Accepting the Academy Award for best foreign film in a gilded Hollywood theater, he spoke of peace and tolerance, reminding tens of millions of viewers worldwide that "at the time when talk of war, intimidation, and aggression is exchanged between politicians, the name of their country, Iran, is spoken here through her glorious culture, a rich and ancient culture that has been hidden under the heavy dust of politics."
Farhadi's carefully chosen words avoided outright criticism of the
Iranian regime. (And for good reason: Fellow Iranian director Jafar Panahi was
sentenced to six years in prison and banned from filmmaking for 20 years after
speaking out in support of Iran's 2009 opposition protests.) Yet, precisely by
sidestepping the overtly political -- by depicting "the way that millions of
normal people live in Iran today," as the lead actor put it -- Farhadi's
Oscar-winning film, A Separation, reminded us how art can transcend nationalism. The story of a
Tehran couple's split -- which arises from a clash over how to raise their
daughter but blows up after a violent incident, setting off a complex legal
imbroglio -- had decidedly Iranian trappings, broaching questions about Islam and
the treatment of women. At its core, though, the film's appeal proved
universal. In a year when Iran and Israel seemed to grow more aggressive by the
day, Farhadi elegantly articulated the basic shared humanity of peoples across
borders, even on the brink of war.
The reports from Mexico are all too familiar: another journalist who has been killed, the latest victim of that country's protracted drug war. The means are as grisly as they are varied, but the reason is nearly always the same -- a willingness to report on cartel violence and corruption in the Mexican government. As a result, self-censorship has become rampant among journalists across Mexico, but Adela Navarro Bello is a striking exception. The editor of the Tijuana weekly Zeta, Navarro leads one of the few remaining publications that prides itself on investigative work into the drug war and the associated miasma of corruption and incompetence. For Navarro and her staff, the stakes could hardly be higher. In 1988, the magazine's co-founder, Héctor Félix Miranda, was shot and killed, and in 2004, co-editor Francisco Ortiz Franco was murdered. Since 2006, when President Felipe Calderón came to office and unleashed the official campaign against the country's cartels, at least 40 Mexican journalists have been murdered or disappeared in a conflict that has killed at least 50,000 -- more than the number of American combat deaths in the Vietnam War. Navarro's magazine practices a kind of journalism both essential and extremely dangerous -- she's following the money. "They say Chapo Guzmán [Mexico's most powerful cartel boss] is worth a billion dollars," she said in a recent interview. "Where is that money? Where are their investments?" In Navarro, who travels with two bodyguards, Mexicans have found a rare reporter brave enough to keep asking the right questions.Reading list: The Invention of Solitude, by Paul Auster; To Each His Own, by Leonardo Sciascia; Confessions of a Young Novelist, by Umberto Eco. Best idea: Rich people paying more taxes. Worst idea: Restricting Internet content.