The new wave of Iranian cinema will surge at Cannes

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Although Iran is in the throes of a deep economic crisis, battered by tough politics and a poorly managed pandemic, this is a big year for Iranian cinema.

Paradoxically, the Iranian cinematographic landscape is full of powerful and fresh films likely to cause an international sensation just like talks between Tehran and the world powers continue to be at an impasse on the revival of the nuclear deal that could lift the country’s crippling sanctions that block exports.

This cinematographic fervor is reflected in the fact that Iranian photos have won two places in the Cannes competition, plus one at the Cannes Critics’ Week, which marks the first presence of Iran in this section devoted to first and second works for almost two decades.

“What everyone is so happy about is that Cannes, thankfully, now represents the younger generation of Iranian filmmakers,” said international distributor Mohammad Attebai, who heads Iranian company Independents based in Tehran.

Finally, after a decade with only the usual suspects – namely Abbas Kiarostami, Asghar Farhadi, Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulov – “finally they are selecting other [Iranian] filmmakers,” said Attebai, who is a former Venice festival consultant.

The case in point is “Holy Spider”, by Born in Iran, based in Denmark Ali Abbassi, who was the toast of Cannes in 2018 with his genre-defying “Border,” which won top prize at Un Certain Regard.

Based on a real Iranian crime case, “Holy Spider”, which will be presented in competition at Cannes on Sunday, is about a a family man named Saeed who becomes a serial killer as he embarks on his own religious quest – to “cleanse” the Iranian holy city of Mashhad of street prostitutes.

Abbasi said he was drawn to the material after the serial killer was caught, legal proceedings began, and “suddenly some people started hailing this guy a hero.”

“Part of the [Iranian] the conservative media applauded. And this is where it started to get interesting for me. I was like, ‘why does anyone think they’re a hero?’ “, He said.

Although “Holy Spider” is an Iranian film, it was not shot in Iran, since the Iranian authorities refused to give Abbasi a allowed to film it in the country.

“So I thought what I would gain from it instead of getting the authenticity of Mashhad is that I would be able to represent the real stuff of the story,” says the director, who shot the movie in Jordan.

He points out that “Holy Spider” is partly a thematic story, and the theme is very obvious: misogyny. “Dramatically, when you’re going to kill women, that’s misogyny in its purest form,” he noted. Abbasi also hopes he “will be one of the few films about Iran with a relatively realistic view of society.

Societal changes, especially with regard to women, are at the heart of the second Iranian film in competition at Cannes, “Leila’s Brothers”, a female empowerment drama set against the backdrop of a family crushed by debts linked international economic sanctions.

“People’s difficulties are partly due to Western sanctions, but also rooted in the Iranian government,” said “Leila’s Brothers” director Saeed Roustaee, who notes that since Iran’s new government led by pro-line hard Ebrahim Raisi took office last August, it has become more difficult for filmmakers to obtain production authorizations and local authorities”impose more censorship than before.

Now, Roustaee hopes that “Leila’s Brothers”, which does not yet have a screening permit in Iran, will be able to take place there without any reduction. “I prefer to completely give up the screening of this film [than] submit to censorship,” he says.

But how is such a cinematic outburst possible in the midst of all these difficulties?

Attebai said there are currently 260 feature films in various stages of production in Iran, most of them completed. Of these, 95% are of private production.

Due to Iran’s economic problems, budgets are shrinking, as is state support, noted Attebai, who points out that “due to all the economic problems and corruption, there is a greater gap between rich and poor” in Iran, where the middle class is disappearing.

“The rich are getting richer and richer and [producing] the cinema is attractive enough for them; they want to make a name for themselves,” he said.

And the creators of most photos produced in Iran dreams of going to international film festivals.

There are at least 10 films by up-and-coming Iranian filmmakers, including Ahmad Bahrami (“The Wasteland”) and Vahid Jalilvand (“No Date, No Signature”), now in the running to go to Locarno, Venice and San Sebastián.

Although the directors are not all newcomers, they represent an emerging and dissident Iranian wave.

“Thanks to social media and satellite TV in my country, great changes have happened in the last 20 years,” said Ali Behrad, whose feature debut, “Imagine,” starring Leila Hatami (“A separation”), is in the Cannes review. ‘ The week.

“A lot of people think that young directors are following in the footsteps of older ones. But I think the new generation is starting from its own cinema,” he added. “We have no connection with the previous generation. learned about cinema from a wider world.

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