AP - A movie about a young girl whose fantasy world helps her escape the hard realities of growing up in the countryside near Tehran in the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic Revolution is Iran's first-ever submission for the Academy Awards' foreign film directed by a woman.
But not everyone is celebrating.
The mixed reaction to Narges Abyar's film "Nafas," or "Breath," shows how art cuts across Iranian politics, both at home and abroad.
Hard-liners have criticized the movie, and it remains unclear whether Abyar and her husband would even be able to get a visa to attend the Oscars in March under President Donald Trump's travel bans. Nominations for the Oscars will be announced in January.
Yet the 47-year-old director and writer Abyar remains confident in the power of art to bridge cultural and political divides.
"Cinema, culture and art do not recognize any border, but in fact bring humanity closer together," she told The Associated Press in a recent interview.
"Breath" focuses on Bahar, a lively girl whose asthmatic father is bringing her and her siblings up on his own, with the help from the children's religious grandmother.
The film shows the rapid changes that hit Iran after the Islamic Revolution, and later, as Scud missiles fall, Iraq's invasion of Iran and the start of the ruinous eight-year war.
Parts of the film take place in Bahar's imagination as she tries to escape the hardship around her.
"Don't let her read so much. She'll go crazy," the grandmother tells Bahar's dad in a scene shown in the film's trailer.
"Granny is right," Bahar later muses. "You go crazy when you read books a lot."
Abyar acknowledges she made an anti-war film.
"The only thing that could destroy her fantasies and imagination was war," Abyar said of Bahar's character.
"This film shows us the obscene face of war that we should avoid, this is what politicians won't tell you," she added.
Bahar refuses to attend Quranic classes, alleging her teacher was being mean to her. Her uncle later teaches the girl how to read the holy book — though she prefers another that she found despite a plot she cannot grasp, a story about girls being kidnapped and put in a house full of prostitutes.
Not surprisingly, the film's topics have proven controversial for Iran's hard-liners who describe the Iran-Iraq war in religious terms as the "Holy Defense" of the Shiite power from dictator Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated government >>>