Cannes, France - Iranian Zar Amir Ebrahimi, who lives in exile following a smear campaign about her love life, wept with joy as she won the best actress award at the Cannes Film Festival late Saturday night. Ebrahimi, 41, won for “Holy Spider”, in which she plays a journalist trying to solve the serial murders of prostitutes in the holy city of Mashhad. “I have come a long way to be on this stage tonight. It was not an easy story,” she told the audience at the awards ceremony.

She said she had been “saved by cinema”. “It was humiliation but there was cinema, it was solitude but there was cinema, it was dark­ness but there was cinema. Now I’m standing in front of you on a night of joy.” “Holy Spider”, directed by Dan­ish-Iranian Ali Abbasi, is inspired by the true story of a working-class man who killed prostitutes in the early 2000s and became known as the “Spider Killer”. Abbasi was de­nied permission to film in Iran and it was ultimately shot in Jordan.

Ebrahimi became a star in Iran in her early twenties for her support­ing role in one of its longest-running soap operas, “Nargess”. But her life and career fell apart shortly after the show ended, when a sex tape was leaked online in 2006 which, it was claimed, featured her. Ebrahimi’s character in “Holy Spider” has also been a victim of lascivious rumours and male predation. The film sug­gests there was little official pres­sure to catch the murderer, who ends up a hero among the religious right. “This film is about women, it’s about their bodies, it’s a mov­ie full of faces, hair, hands, feet, breasts, sex -- everything that is impossible to show in Iran,” Ebra­himi said. “Thank you, Ali Abbasi for being so crazy and so gener­ous and for directing against all odds this powerful thing.” At an earlier press conference follow­ing the film’s premiere, Ebrahimi said that she had been inspired by her real journalist friends in Iran.

“I know the difficulties they face every day,” she said. “Many of my journalist friends, especially wom­en, left Iran just after me.” Abbasi insisted the film should not be seen as controversial. “Everything shown here is part of people’s everyday life. There is enough evidence that peo­ple in Iran have sex, too.