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U.S. film 'Argo' not getting any buzz in Iran

The film 'Argo,' directed by Ben Affleck, tells the story of the rescue of six diplomats who escaped as the American Embassy in Tehran was stormed in 1979.

November 03, 2012|By Ramin Mostaghim and Alexandra Sandels, Los Angeles Times
  • Star Ben Affleck in a scene in "Argo," which he also directed. The film is about the rescue of six American diplomats who were stranded in Tehran after the U.S. Embassy was stormed in 1979.
Star Ben Affleck in a scene in "Argo," which he also directed.… (Keith Bernstein / Warner…)

TEHRAN — There's little reaction in Iran so far to "Argo," the box-office hit about the elaborate and risky rescue of six U.S. diplomats who avoided becoming hostages when militants stormed the U.S. Embassy here on Nov. 4, 1979 —33 years ago Sunday.

Of course, 52 other U.S. citizens were held hostage for 444 days in one of the more ignominious episodes in U.S. diplomatic history.

Although "Argo" has not appeared in Iran even in a pirated version, as many movies from the West are first viewed here, curious cinema enthusiasts have viewed excerpts on the Internet, via proxy servers to circumvent government censors.

Some like what they've seen. Others aren't impressed. Some suspect that it is an attempt to create a "feel-good" moment based on a still-humiliating episode for the United States.

"I saw only a short piece of it on YouTube and, from what I saw, I liked the film," a 60-year-old businessman who asked to be identified only as Ali, said as he filled his pipe with tobacco in his spacious downtown Tehran office. "As an Iranian, I don't have any bad feelings about the film. For me, the hostage-taking and takeover of the U.S. Embassy are long-gone stories."

Each year, the Iranian government commemorates the takeover in an elaborate, boisterous rally that unspools predictably into a festival bashing the U.S. and Israel.

Hasan Shayesteh, 56, who says U.S. economic sanctions caused his trading firm to go broke, said the film appeared to be a palliative for the wounded American psyche. The movie, he noted, elevates a small success story against the backdrop of a mortifying American security failure.

"This film … may be thought of as solace for the hurt pride of the Americans," Shayesteh said. Director "Ben Affleck wants to sweeten the already bitter mouths of Americans. … It does not help at all."

Amir, a teenage student, likewise expressed doubt about the movie even though he has not seen the online excerpts.

"In general," Amir said, "what Hollywood produces is against us."

At least one of those involved in the 1979 embassy takeover has weighed in publicly.

Masoumeh Ebteker, a spokeswoman for the hostage-takers who was dubbed "Sister Mary" by the U.S. media at the time, wrote on her English-language blog that "Argo" bared "an untouched aspect of the takeover of the American embassy in Tehran without providing sufficient resources to the real reasons behind the event."

In comments to the Etemad newspaper, she suggested that Iran should produce its own cinematic version. The former "Sister Mary" also said that, with more than three decades of hindsight, some hostage-takers have concluded that the episode could have ended sooner. But she offered no apologies.

"Now, retrospectively, when we look at that takeover, many former students think that [a] 444-day hostage-taking was too long," she said. "And perhaps if circumstances would have been different at the time, maybe events would have unfolded differently."

Mostaghim is a special correspondent in Tehran. Sandels is a special correspondent in Beirut. Times staff writer Patrick J. McDonnell in Beirut contributed to this report.

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