How Mohammad Rasoulof Escaped Iran and why he will continue fighting.

Mohammad Rasoulof has arrived. The dissident Iranian director is on the Cannes Movie Competition to current his new movie, The Seed of the Sacred Fig, in competitors, simply weeks after he dramatically escaped Iran on foot, fleeing an eight-year jail sentence.

Particulars of the director’s harrowing escape had been made public final week after he was safely away, ensconced in an undisclosed location in Germany. He made the choice to go away, to desert his homeland and stroll throughout the mountainous borderland after the authorities sentenced him to a prolonged jail time period.

His sentence additionally included a wonderful, the confiscation of property, and a flogging as punishment for bottles of wine the police found throughout a raid on his house.

Rasoulof had been arrested and imprisoned in Tehran’s infamous Evin jail in July 2022 for signing a petition calling on safety forces to “Lay Down Your Arms” and train restraint in response to road protests. He was launched quickly on well being grounds in February of final yr and had been below home arrest ever since. However the specter of the unique sentence nonetheless hung over him.

“I knew this sentence was going to be made public eventually as a result of the case had been open for some time,” says Rasoulof, chatting with The Hollywood Reporter in Cannes. “So I used to be at all times asking myself: ‘How will I react after I lastly discover out that I’m sentenced to jail?’”

It wasn’t jail that frightened him. Rasoulof had carried out time earlier than. However the thought that jail would stop him from ending his new film — The Seed of the Sacred Fig was nonetheless in postproduction — was an excessive amount of to bear.

“It was fairly clear for me that what mattered most now was to go on making movies and telling my tales,” he says, “I had extra tales to inform, and nothing may cease me from telling them.”

Rasoulof selected Germany for his exile as a result of he had lived within the nation earlier than —the German authorities had his papers on file and had been capable of ID him even and not using a passport, which the Iranian police had seized — and since The Seed of the Sacred Fig, a German co-production, was being edited in Berlin.

Relating to his escape, Rasoulof says that in Evin Jail he had heard a couple of secret route over the mountains to freedom and contacted his previous cellmates.

“On reflection, I believe that I used to be extraordinarily fortunate and privileged to go to jail as a result of that’s the place I met individuals, very helpful individuals, who helped me to cross the border,” says Rasoulof, smiling. “I wouldn’t have been capable of do it in any other case.”

Mohammad Rasalouf

By Leo Jacob

The Seed of the Sacred Fig was shot in secret and with out permits. Rasoulof has been banned from making motion pictures in Iran since 2017, when his function A Man of Integrity screened in Cannes and upset the Tehran regime. (The movie appears at endemic corruption in provincial Iran and the struggles of an excellent man caught between doing the best factor or becoming a member of the ranks of the corrupt elite.) His final movie, There Is No Evil, which examines how extraordinary residents can resist Iran’s authoritarian regime, was made with funding assist from Germany and the Czech Republic and screened in Berlin, in 2020, successful the Golden Bear for finest movie.

Each A Man of Integrity and There Is No Evil present the insidious influence of the Islamic Republic on the private lives of extraordinary Iranians. The Seed of the Sacred Fig goes deeper, following a single household enmeshed within the regime. Misagh Zare performs Iman, an investigator for Iran’s Revolutionary Courtroom who’s fiercely loyal to the federal government however has begun to query the arbitrary and abstract nature of the loss of life warrants he’s requested to signal. At dwelling, his spouse Najmeh (Soheila Golestani) and daughters Rezvan (Mahsa Rostami) and Sana (Setareh Maleki) change into caught up within the Ladies, Life, Freedom protests sparked by the loss of life, in custody, of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in 2022. Amini had been detained for allegedly not sporting her hijab correctly and was reportedly crushed by the police.

The Seed of the Sacred Fig

Cannes Movie Competition

Rasoulof says he determined to shift his focus from the victims of the regime to these imposing repression after an incident in Evin Jail.

“There was a political prisoner on a starvation strike in my cell,” he remembers. “Issues appeared actually unhealthy at one level and the authorities had been involved. Some essential figures of the administration got here to fulfill him. Whereas they had been there, one in every of them took me apart. He took a pen out of his pocket and gave it to me, saying ‘That is my present to you.’ I used to be very shocked, and he stated: ‘Don’t assume that we’re glad doing this. On daily basis, after I enter this jail, I take a look at the gate and assume: When am I going to hold myself in entrance of that door? On daily basis, my kids ask me: What’s your job? What do you truly do?’ That was the seed of this story.”

The Seed of the Sacred Fig, which Neon picked up for launch within the U.S. forward of its Cannes premiere on Friday, traces Iman’s struggles as he tries to sq. his conscience, and his love for his household, together with his loyalty to the Tehran regime. Slowly, the concern and paranoia, the injustice and violence on the core of the authoritarian system, bleed into his non-public life.

The Seed of the Sacred Fig

Cannes Movie Competition

“I used to look at the Iranian regime as a complete as a system and probably not take note of its operate,” says Rasoulof. “However with my final two movies, A Man of Integrity and There Is No Evil, and right here extra, I’m getting nearer and nearer to the weather that make this machine work. Who’re these individuals who assist the regime? What are their motivations? I’ve tried to essentially get near them to grasp the psychology, their relation to this technique they nourish.”

The Seed of the Sacred Tree violates just about each rule of Iranian state censorship. It reveals its lead actresses with out the hijab — the three younger actresses within the movie have now left Iran to keep away from harassment or persecution — and it’s instantly vital of the regime. Rasoulof consists of intensive cellphone footage posted on Iranian social media of police cracking down on Ladies, Life, Freedom protestors: beating younger women and girls, dragging them throughout the road by their hair, tossing them into vans and driving off. It’s unlikely the director will be capable to return dwelling quickly.

The Seed of the Sacred Fig

Cannes Movie Competition

“It’s troublesome for me to consider going again to Iran,” says Rasoulof. “I’m nonetheless in shock of getting left the nation. However now that I’m right here, in Cannes, precisely the identical place the place I used to be seven years in the past, I understand how a lot issues have modified. And I see being Iranian doesn’t essentially imply being in Iran geographically. Tens of millions of Iranians have needed to flee the nation as a result of they weren’t capable of stick with it with their lives as they wished. Now there’s a tradition of Iran that’s everywhere on this planet. And I’m one in every of them. It is a new way of life, a brand new manner of making. It can imply new restrictions. However I’m used to creating regardless of constraints and restrictions. I’ll maintain telling my tales. If I’ve to do it utilizing puppets or clay figures, I cannot cease.”

Even in Europe, Rasoulof is aware of he can’t really feel absolutely protected.

“After all [the regime] can attain me if they need,” he notes. “I strive not to consider it, whereas on the identical time. I’ll always remember that the Islamic Republic is a terrorist. And terror has other ways of being utilized. They’ll suppress individuals bodily, and so they can destroy them by their media, by their lies, and their discourse. That is one thing that I’ve in me, at all times. I don’t overlook who the adversary is.”

However regardless of all of it, the director says he feels “extraordinarily hopeful” for the way forward for Iran. The Ladies, Life, Freedom protestors had been pushed off the streets, however the motion “has simply gone underground, what was began remains to be rising,” he says. “What issues is that people have seen they will resist, they will do issues otherwise. And we’ve extraordinary individuals, extraordinarily courageous ladies in my nation. I do know that change will come from ladies on this planet, and extra particularly the ladies in Iran.”