In a first for Jafar Panahi, the lauded Iranian filmmaker has a berth in the main competition at the Cannes Film Festival with his latest work, Three Faces. What is not clear is if he will be allowed to travel to the Riviera for the honor. In 2010, Panahi was arrested by the Iranian authorities and banned from making films. He has continued to work, but is unable to leave Iran and still faces a prison sentence which has not been enforced. Cannes chief Thierry Frémaux said today that the festival will appeal to Iran for the filmmaker’s presence.
The same goes for Kirill Serebrennikov, the theatrical producer and director who is under house arrest in Russia. He has been invited to the festival in competition for the first time with Leto (Summer) about the life of Soviet rock star Viktor Tsoi and the Leningrad rock underground of the 80s. The director previously had 2016’s The Disciple in Un Certain Regard.
Of Panahi, Frémaux said, “The Iranian authorities will receive a letter from us and from the French authorities to see if they can authorize him to come. We would really love to welcome him.”
Cannes President Pierre Lescure was careful to add that “it’s not a question of pressure. We are not diplomats. The French authorities will accompany us in the procedure which is great. We have to be formal, but not provoking.”
Three Faces tells the story of a trio of Iranian actresses in various life situations.
Panahi’s debut film, The White Balloon, won the Camera d’Or in Cannes in 1995. He has gone on to international acclaim, and alongside Asghar Farhadi (who is opening the festival this year with Everybody Knows) is the best-known Iranian filmmaker despite the oppression he has faced at home.
In 2015, he won Berlin’s Golden Bear for Taxi, having previously taken the Silver Bear for Best Screenplay with 2013’s Closed Curtain.
In 2011, This Is Not A Film made headlines with its spot in Special Screenings in Cannes — it had been smuggled to the Croisette via a USB key buried inside a cake that was sent from Iran to France.
Earlier, in 2000, he won Venice’s Golden Lion for The Circle; the Un Certain Regard Jury prize in Cannes for Crimson Gold in 2003 and the Jury Grand Prix in Berlin in 2006 for Offside.
Panahi has previously said, “I’m a filmmaker. I can’t do anything else but make films. Cinema is my expression and the meaning of my life. Nothing can prevent me from making films. Because when I’m pushed into the furthest corners I connect with my inner self. And in such private spaces, despite all limitations, the necessity to create becomes even more of an urge. Cinema as an Art becomes my main preoccupation. That is the reason why I have to continue making films under any circumstances to pay my respects and feel alive.”
Some have remarked that the lineup that was revealed today by Cannes resembles a Berlin Film Festival roster with more esoteric offerings. Cannes also seems to be taking a page from that politically engaged festival with the invitation to Panahi and to Serebrennikov.