Jacob Mendez
Jacob Mendez

Cannes 2024: Mohammad Rasoulof on his escape from the country

For Rasoulof it is a debut in the most important section in Cannes. So far, his films have been shown as part of Un Certain Regard. In 2017, he received the review's main award “An Honest Man”. Besides, Rasoulof is also the winner of Berlin's Golden Bear “Evil does not exist” from 2020.

The director has been creating committed cinema throughout his entire career, which has put him in conflict with the Iranian authorities from the very beginning. When in July he signed a petition calling on the law enforcement forces to refrain from using force and brutality to respond to protests, he was arrested and convicted. He was temporarily released from prison in February 2023 for health reasons. However, he was not allowed to leave the country. Therefore, he could not take part in the 76th Cannes Festival, where he was supposed to sit on the jury of the Un Certain Regard section.

Rasoulof was halfway through filming “The Seed of a Sacred Fig” when he learned that he had been sentenced to another death. As he admitted in an interview with Deadline, it was difficult to continue working on the film with this awareness. Due to the appeal and delays in processing the application, he was able to finish filming.

However, during the editing process, his verdict was confirmed. Rasoulof literally had a few hours to decide to leave the country. “Fortunately, my crew was working abroad, so I contacted them and let them know that they wouldn't hear anything from me for a few days,” said the director. Within two hours it was ready. He left all electronic devices at home and, with the help of a friend, took refuge in a safe place.

He met people who helped him cross the border while in prison. Thanks to them, he got to a village near the border, which he crossed after a few days. After some time, he was taken to the German consulate. “I had no documents confirming my identity. I had to contact the German authorities because I used to live in Germany. There were sections of my squares there, so they could identify me and get me temporary documents. Thanks to them, I could get to Germany. The whole process took 28 days “- he recalled.

The photos for “The Seed of a Sacred Fig” were taken without the knowledge of the authorities or professional equipment, with a small crew. “Limitations make you more creative,” said the director, and compared the production itself to a student film. He added that he is in contact with his actors and crew, who were recently charged. “There is pressure on those who stayed (in the country), which is completely illegal. They didn't do anything wrong, they just took part in the film. Some of the cast and crew managed to escape before we revealed the existence of the project. Unfortunately, those who stayed , are in danger,” Rasoulof said.

The director also noted that he did not intend to give up making films. While in custody, he began developing an animated project. “When my mission is finished and I've told all the stories, maybe then I'll get some rest,” he concluded.

The winners of the 77th Cannes Festival will be announced on the evening of May 25, 2024.