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Echoes of resistance: “The seed of the sacred fig”

At the 77th Cannes Film Festival, Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof was honoured with the Special Jury Award for his film “The seed of the sacred fig”. In his acceptance speech, Rasoulof highlighted the plight of his fellow actors who were unable to attend the festival due to the regime in Iran.


Mohammad Rasoulof. Photo by Pediakar / Wikimedia. Creative License Commons. -CC-BY-SA-4.0.

Rola Zamzameh*


Rasoulof emphasized the daily struggles and disasters faced by the Iranian people, whom he described as being held hostage by their government. Rasoulof drew attention to the persecution of journalists, artists, and university professors in Iran, specifically mentioning Toumaj Salehi, a rapper sentenced to death for his artistic expression, urging the international community to protest against such injustices.

Rasoulof, who recently left Iran, explained that his new film draws from his personal encounters with the Iranian judicial system, particularly during the “Women, Life, Freedom” protests sparked by the death of Mahsa (Jina) Amini in police custody. He recounted his own legal troubles, including an eight-year prison sentence, of which five years were to be served, along with whippings and fines. Faced with these severe penalties, Rasoulof decided to leave Iran to continue making films aligned with his vision.

“The seed of the sacred fig” premiered to an enthusiastic audience at Cannes. In an interview with Reuters, Rasoulof explained that the inspiration for the film came from his multiple arrests and imprisonments. Accused of crimes ranging from making films without permission to acting against national security, Rasoulof has faced significant pressure, including reports of Iranian authorities summoning and questioning his actors to force the film’s withdrawal from Cannes.

Rasoulof previously won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival for “The Devil does not exist”, a film addressing the death penalty in Iran. Reflecting on his interactions with prison officials, he expressed curiosity about the mind-set of those who uphold the oppressive system.

The film delves into the psyche of a judge grappling with nervous tension and paranoia amid the widespread “Women, life, freedom” protests. These protests, ignited by the death of Mahsa Amini, underscore the film’s focus on institutional violence and the internal conflicts within the families of Iranian officials. At the red carpet event for the film’s screening, Rasoulof was joined by actors Setara Maliki, Mehsa Rostami, and Nyusha Akhshi. However, he notably highlighted the absence of key actors Soheila Golestani and Mithaq Zare by displaying their photographs. Special guests included Golshifteh Farahani, an Iranian actor prominent in French and American cinema.

“The seed of the sacred fig” centres on Iman, an investigator at the Tehran Revolutionary Court, who aspires to become a judge. His wife, an advocate of the government’s ideology, and his two daughters, sceptical of their father’s role, create familial tension against a background of societal unrest.

The protests reveal generational divides, with the daughters questioning their father’s job and the morality of his actions. A critical turning point occurs when Iman’s gun goes missing, leading to suspicions that his daughters are involved, heightening the family’s internal strife.

The film portrays the corrupt judicial system in Iran, where career advancement is contingent on strict adherence to higher authorities’ directives. Initially hesitant to indict a prisoner, Iman is coerced into compliance by his superiors, reflecting the broader systemic pressures. Real footage of the 2022 protests is interspersed throughout the film, grounding its narrative in the recent history of Iranian civil unrest.

Despite being made secretly and without official permission in Iran, the film showcases Rasoulof’s directorial prowess, particularly in its dramatic chase sequences and a powerful final scene. The film symbolically critiques the patriarchal and ideological rigidity of the Iranian regime, as embodied by the father’s authority and his daughters’ resistance.

The film’s conclusion and Rasoulof’s remarks at the festival, which met with a lengthy standing ovation, encapsulate a fervent hope for the end of oppression in Iran.

This work not only brought more critical acclaim to Iranian cinema but also underscored the resilience and independence of its filmmakers against a backdrop of governmental repression. The jury of the International Federation of Film Critics called it “a courageous story set in modern-day Iran that deals with the conflict between tradition and progress, depicted in a very powerful and imaginative way.”

*Rola Zamzameh: Senior journalist of the EU Commission and Parliament.


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