Isabelle Coutant-Peyre, the lawyer investigating possible litigation over Argo’s portrayal of Iran, tells me she is weighing options on how to proceed and is considering bringing suit in France, Switzerland or the U.S. The French attorney traveled to Tehran last week at the “urgent” request of the culture minister and speaking by phone today, she called Argo “the cherry on top” of a string of movies that Iranian officials consider an affront to their nation and people. Authorities, she said, are concerned historical facts and the way in which Iranians are depicted are distortions and want “to be able to give their point of view so that they are not seen as mad men.”
Argo is based on the story of how the CIA and Hollywood orchestrated the escape of six Americans from Iran in 1979, but when I asked if it was understood by officials that the Ben Affleck-directed film is a fictionalized account, Coutant-Peyre countered, “It claims to be a sort of documentary… In the beginning of the film it says it is taken from declassified documents.” She called it a “report” on an event “which is distorted in the film.” She further said it was part of what is considered a “strategy of strong pressure from the American government” which was made clear “via Mrs. Obama” when she announced Argo‘s Best Picture Oscar win on February 24. When I suggested that the names of Academy Award winners are kept secret until the envelopes are opened on Oscar night, Coutant-Peyre responded, “You think they didn’t know? That’s not true. The president knew.”
No lawsuit is immediately forthcoming, however. “There are administrative questions and I’m waiting on complementary documents to show what has been falsified in the film,” Coutant-Peyre said. She also explained that Iran is about to enter its two-week New Year period of Nowruz, delaying any action. Were she to bring a claim in France, she estimates she would sue the distributor, Warner Bros; in Switzerland, the claim could be for defamation of a foreign state; and in the U.S. she said she would consider suing Argo’s producers, but she would have to line up an American co-counsel. (LA-based entertainment lawyer Alex Weingarten recently told Deadline if the suit were filed in California, it would be subject to a special motion to strike brought under the anti-SLAPP statute and subject to First Amendment protection.) Coutant-Peyre said she would not ask for a ban of Argo but she might seek a disclaimer at the start of the movie that “the Republic of Iran contests what is in the film.” She told me she has not yet contacted Affleck, the producers or Warner Bros., saying she expects to be in touch “before we would sit down in a court room.”
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