Rasoulof presents latest film at Cannes

Cannes, France   -   It is one of the most dramatic storylines ever delivered at Cannes: Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof walks the red carpet Friday before the film festival. “I can’t believe I’m standing here,” AFP journalists heard Rasoulof telling officials as he arrived at the Palais des Festivals on the French Cote d’Azur.  Having made a hair-raising escape from Iran on the eve of the Cannes Film Festival, he will present the premiere of his latest film, “The Seed of the Sacred Fig”, which is competing for the top Palme d’Or prize on Friday.

It is the last day of festival screenings, with the winners from the 22 entries to be announced on Saturday by a jury led by “Barbie” director Greta Gerwig. Rasoulof’s film, made underground in Iran on a tiny budget, tells the story of a court prosecutor, whose family life is torn apart by the “Women, Life, Freedom” protests that convulsed the country in 2022-23.

An outspoken award-winning filmmaker has already served two prison terms over his previous, highly political films and had his passport revoked in 2017. Rasoulof came under pressure to withdraw his latest film from Cannes, but he already knew during the production that he faced a new eight-year prison sentence for “collusion against national security”, and had hatched a plan to escape.  It took 28 days on the road, moving between border villages, to get out of the country, he told Deadline magazine.  “The good thing about going to prison is that you meet all kinds of youthful people who can help you in such conditions,” he told the magazine.

Festival director Thierry Fremaux said he shared the joy of “all festival-goers and all freedom-loving Iranians” over Rasoulof’s arrival. The final film to screen in the competition, later Friday, is “The Most Precious of Cargoes”, the first animated film to compete for the Palme d’Or since 2008’s “Waltz With Bashir”.

It is the tale of a twin thrown to safety from a death train transporting his Jewish parents to Auschwitz, from Michel Hazanavicius, director of the Oscar-winning “The Artist”.

The 77th edition of the world-famous festival has seen a lot of gore and #MeToo-related issues.

A late frontrunner is “All We Imagine as Light”, which premiered Thursday.  The first Indian entry in 30 years, it is a poetic monsoon-set portrayal of two nurses who have migrated to Mumbai, described as a dreamlike five-star “triumph” by The Guardian. “Emilia Perez”, an audacious musical about a Mexican narco boss having a sex change, has also been a favourite.    Demi Moore has emerged as a serious contender for the best actress award after rave reviews for her “fearless” performance in “The Substance”, an ultra-gory horror film about the pressures women face to maintain bodily perfection as they age.  And there has been a lot of love for “Anora”, a raw and often-hilarious story about a New York erotic dancer who strikes gold with a wealthy client, only to face the wrath of his Russian oligarch parents.  Francis Ford Coppola’s ambitious fable “Megalopolis” has its admirers but proved sharply divisive, while Donald Trump biopic “The Apprentice” has drawn strong reviews as well as legal threats from the former US president.

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