An ode to the power of cinema, the coherence, tenderness and soft impact of which leaves Sam Mendes’s recent Empire of Light in the dust, Hassan Nazer’s Winners sees the glitz of Hollywood seep into the Iranian everyday via a stray Oscar statue, lost in a taxi en route to the home of its winner in Tehran. A winding road of luck and naive decisions leads it to be discovered by Yahya (Parsa Maghami), an Afghan refugee child whose obsession with cinema keeps him up into the night indulging in the delights of film, much to the ire of his mother. Despite his cinematic obsession, Yahya, like most of the people whose hands the statue passes through on its journey, has no clue what it really represents. To us, it’s an almost satirical golden beacon amidst the chalky surroundings that brim with a longing for transcendence.
Meanwhile, Yahya finds himself exploited in the business of garbage heap scavenging – a well-oiled operation, the underpayment of the child labourers a cog in its workings – run by Nasser Khan (Reza Naji) and Saber (Hossein Abedini). The latter drip-feeds Yahya rare DVDs, promising him the eventual arrival of Cinema Paradiso – one of many meta nods and winks scattered throughout that include, not least, the casting of Naji and Abedini, the referential significance of which is revealed as the film approaches its final act.
The meta-intertextuality of the feature sometimes wrestles for air with its other themes (such as the nature of refugee life, child labour in Nazer’s home country and the current state of the Iranian film industry), cramming a lot to think about in its brief runtime. But Winners overflows with an infectious affection for the cinema and people of Iran, regardless of whether its every postmodern tic wins viewers over.
Winners is released in select cinemas on 17th March 2023.
Watch the trailer for Winners here: