Mohammad Rasoulof Sentenced to Prison

Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof, who was expected at Cannes Film festival 2024, has been sentenced to eight years in prison. According to unconfirmed reports, he has been able to leave the country.

Convicted of “collusion against national security”, signing petitions and making films and documentaries,  he received an eight-year sentence (five years immediately applicable and three more suspended), including flogging, a fine and the confiscation of his property.

Rasoulof’s lawyer Babak Paknia said that the sentence received by his 52-year-old client had already been confirmed on appeal.

The lawyer claims that the authorities summoned crew members of The Seed of The Sacred Fig for questioning and pressured them to withdraw the film from international competitions.

This decision, which comes a few days before the opening of the 77th Cannes Film Festival, where he is due to present his new film, recalls attacks on the freedom of other filmmakers including Jafar Panahi.

In December 2010, Rasoulof was arrested with Panahi, with whom he co-directed a film on huge protests against rigged presidential elections of 2009, for “acts and propaganda hostile to the Islamic Republic of Iran”. Rasoulof was sentenced to one year and Panahi to six years in prison. Panahi went on a hunger strike and his chair remained empty at Cannes 2010 where he was invited as one of the main jury members.

In 2011, Rasoulof’s exceptional film, Goodbye, was screened out of competition at the Cannes Film Festival. Exceptional because of the situation of its director who was subject to legal proceedings in his homeland. The film was made clandestinely. Its director, like Panahi, was subject to a 20-year filming ban. He was unable to come to Cannes to present his film.

His links with the Cannes Film festival go back to 2005, when he presented his second film, Iron Island, in the parallel section of the festival, the Directors’ Fortnight. This film, which concluded the 2005 edition of the section, contained elements of socio-political denunciation of the corruption and the power abuse which recur in his later films.

Another unknown amazing fiction, “The White Meadows” (2009), which followed a documentary named “The Parable” (2008), should also be remembered. It participated at the San Sebastian Film Festival but was never shown in Iran.

In 2013, Manuscripts Don’t Burn was presented at the Cannes Film Festival in the Un Certain Regard section. The film, which won the FIPRESCI prize, caused many problems for its filmmaker after his return to Iran.

Rasoulof received the Golden Bear at the Berlinale in 2020 for There Is No Evil, a reflection on free will, the death penalty and the duty of disobedience. Banned from leaving Iranian territory, he could not be present to receive his award.

Last year, Rasoulof was invited as Un Certain Regard’s jury member but missed the occasion because of the travel ban. Rasoulof had won this section’s best film award in 2017 for A Man of Integrity, which tells the story of a man with a simple life who tries to fight against the dishonest manouevres of a private company and widespread corruption.

By last August, Rasoulof and Panahi had been jailed again for having signed a petition in favour of more than 40 victims of a commercial tower collapse.

The Seed of The Sacred Fig  is scheduled to show at the end of the 77th Cannes Film Festival, but there is no hope of seeing its director at the screening.

Shahla Nahid
© FIPRESCI 2024