Mohammad Rasoulof fled Iran to debut his film in Cannes. ‘I have many more stories to tell,’ he says

May 26, 2024 12:25 pm

[Source: AP]

Mohammad Rasoulof was facing eight years in prison — and likely more considering the uncompromising nature of his latest film, “The Seed of the Sacred Fig” — when he decided to flee Iran.

His films and statements criticizing government-sanctioned violence against protesters had already earned him a long string of prison sentences, filmmaking bans, travel restrictions and the confiscation of his passport in 2017.

Leaving his native country meant embarking on a life of exile, not to mention a risky escape on foot across the mountainous borderland.

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Two weeks after the harrowing escape, Rasoulof arrived at the Cannes Film Festival with a completed film. At a Cannes where several filmmakers like Francis Ford Coppola and Kevin Costner have been praised for investing their own money into their films, Rasoulof has put far more on the line: To debut “The Seed of the Sacred Fig,” Rasoulof has risked his life.

“I have many more stories to tell, many more narratives to create and films to make,” said Rasoulof, speaking Thursday through an interpreter at Cannes’ Palais des Festivals. “That’s what persuaded me to leave Iran. I had to go on with this mission. I feel that my mission is to connect the audiences of the world to these stories, to this Iranian narrative. This is my plan for the coming years.”

Rasoulof’s dramatic arrival and the explosiveness of his film will bring the Cannes Film Festival to a riveting close. On Saturday, the day after the premiere of “The Seed of the Sacred Fig” in competition, the festival will award its top prize, the Palme d’Or. Rasoulof’s film is seen as a favorite.

“The Seed of the Sacred Fig” is set during the 2022 protests in Iran and includes real cellphone footage — some it violent and ghastly, censored by Iran’s government — from the demonstrations. The film follows a fictional family of four — a father, mother and two daughters — who acutely internalize the political turmoil. The father, who works in the justice system, is forced to rubber-stamp sentences of protesters. He grows increasingly suspicious of his wife and daughters, as the film turns into a darkly penetrating examination of contemporary Iran.

Investing an expansive social drama within the intimacy of a family, Rasoulof says, was a way of reflecting the contrast between the public face and private lives of the Islamic Republic.

“There’s a very strong contradiction between what they say and the ideas they think they embrace and the reality of their lives,” says Rasoulof. “I’ll give you a very absurd example.”

Rasoulof recalls an encounter when he was in prison two years ago. He had fallen ill and was taken to a hospital where revolving soldiers stood guard beside his bed. His captors, though, were eager to watch Rasoulof’ s prize-winning 2020 drama “There Is No Evil,” about capital punishment in Iran. It’s banned in Iran.

“I had to watch ‘There Is No Evil’ every evening,” he says, laughing. “They were so excited to be there with a filmmaker. And they knew that I had made a film about prison guards, so they wanted to watch it. They had found a flash drive and every night, I had no choice in the film I wanted to watch.”