Cannes 2024 (7)

Competition Entries from Iran and India

A political highlight was saved for the finale in Cannes, the film "The Seed of the Sacred Fig" by Mohammad Rasoulof. Under the conditions of Iranian censorship, Rasoulof's film seems like a suicidal project. A director critical of the regime dares to make a film about the protest movement following the death of the young Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in police custody. Filming took place with maximum precautions. "We felt like drug dealers and gangsters", he said at the press conference, "like gangsters of the cinema".

The actress Serateh Maleki who was involved in the project from the beginning added that she did not know who the director would be until shortly before filming began. Masha Rostami, who plays her sister in the film, was only allowed to read the script in a safe room. It was her first film and she was immediately enthusiastic about the project because she had taken part in the protests herself and had been injured.

Mohammad Rasoulof said that he had based his story on real people. A prison guard told him that he was unable to tell his family what he did during the day and how he earned his money.

A similar situation can be found in Rasoulof's film. Iman (Misagh Zare) has just been promoted to examining magistrate at the Revolutionary Court; he has always told his daughters that he works in the civil service. However, Iman comes into conflict with his superiors because he refuses to sign a death sentence without having read the file. A friend of his daughter's is seriously injured during a demonstration and is cared for by the girls and her mother. In between, Rasoulof cuts documentary mobile phone videos of the protests.

The protests increase and the father fears for his career if it becomes known that his daughters are involved. His wife (Soheila Golestani), who has stood loyally by his side up to now, begins to doubt him. The family members are played off against each other. The father falls into a spiral of paranoia.

The conflict between the daughters and their father comes to a head when a ' handgun' he was given to protect his family disappears. Blindfolded, the girls are interrogated by one of their father's colleagues in order to expose the 'guilty party'. The repressive violence of the regime suddenly affects their own family.

Rasoulof's film subtly demonstrates how a repressive regime relies on the support of its officials and a population disinformed by the media. The film develops a nuanced psychogram of a family that breaks down due to its inner contradictions.

In the middle of filming, Rasoulof learnt that he had been sentenced to eight years in prison. He knew that he still had four weeks until the appeal court's decision. When the judgement was confirmed by the court, he knew that he had to leave the country if he didn't want to spend the next few years in prison. He had two hours to make a decision, before leaving his house.

"The Seed of the Sacred Fig" immediately rose to the top of the critics' rankings and was awarded prizes by both the Ecumenical Jury and the international critics (FIPRESCI). Suddenly the film was a favourite for the Palme d'Or and eventually won the Special Competition Prize.

On the penultimate day of the festival, there was another surprising highlight, the Indian entry "All We Imagine As Light". It was the first Indian film in competition at Cannes for 30 years.

Director Payal Kapadia won the prize for best documentary film in Cannes three years ago. Her portrait of three women in the metropolis of Mumbai is characterised by a poetic realism and an unsentimental view of the everyday lives of the people who come together in this city of millions. Prabha (Kani Kusruti) and her younger colleague Anu (Devya Prabha) work as nurses in a womens' hospital. Prabha was married young in an arranged marriage, her husband has been working in Germany for years. She hides her loneliness behind a strict work discipline and reacts cautiously to the advances of a doctor who shows interest in her. Anu is livelier and more active, she borrows money from her older colleague to pay the rent and is seeing her Muslim boyfriend (Hridhu Haroon) only secretly, because Hindus and Muslims are not allowed to have relationships. The third protagonist is the hospital cook Parvaty (Chhaya Kadam), a widow who is unable to make any claims after the death of her husband and is evicted from her flat by property investors. When she returns to her village by the sea, the women help her move.

Nothing spectacular happens and yet the film is full of emotional tension. Director Payal Kapadia draws a portrait of the huge city in fine strokes, documenting the crowds on the streets and in the trains. At the same time, we see how three self-confident women assert themselves in a male-dominated society that grants them lesser rights. An elegantly staged panorama of women, light-handed and socially precise.