At the conclusion of Wednesday’s morning Cannes press conference for Asghar Farhadi’s latest film, the festival opener “Everybody Knows,” the Iranian filmmaker snuck in one last comment, unprompted by the assembled crowd of international press or his starry cast of heavy-hitters like Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem. After the conference wrapped, the “A Separation” filmmaker requested to have his microphone back, so that he could issue a comment on a situation clearly close to his heart.
“I thought perhaps we could go on to one last point,” he said. Farhadi pointed out that his is not the only Iranian film in competition this year, but that his fellow countryman Jafar Panahi was not in attendance to support his film “Three Faces” because of his ongoing house arrest in 2011 for charges of making propaganda.
The “Offside” and “The Circle” filmmaker was also banned by his own country from making films for twenty years, though he’s been able to make four features since the decision seven years ago. (The official sentence banned Panahi from directing any films, writing any screenplays, giving any form of interview with the media, or leaving the country except for medical treatment or making the Hajj pilgrimage.) In 2011, his daring documentary “This Is Not a Film” was smuggled out of Iran in a flash drive hidden inside a cake, and it was then screened at that year’s Cannes.
“I spoke to him yesterday,” Farhadi said. “I have great respect for his work. I continue to hope he will be able to come. I think there’s still time. I would like to send out this message. I hope the decision will be made for him to come. What’s important for him is not to catch a plane, but to see how spectators view his film, how they’ll react.”
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Farhadi added, “It’s a very strange feeling to be able to be here, whereas he cannot be here. This is something I have difficult living with. It’s wonderful that he’s continued to work in the face of such adversity.”
Many other filmmakers have also been outspoken about Panahi’s plight over the years, including Ken Loach, the Dardenne brothers, Jon Jost, Walter Salles, Olivier Assayas, Tony Gatlif, and the late Abbas Kiarostami.
Fellow filmmaker Oliver Stone, a long-time supporter of Panahi, recently expressed a similar sentiment while attending Iran’s Fajr International Film Festival, where he commented during a press conference in Tehran that he should be allowed to attend the festival. A week earlier, Iran’s Directors Union wrote a public letter to Iranian president Hassan Rouhani asking that Panahi be allowed to travel to the French film festival.
Stone also expressed his admiration for Panahi being able to still make films, given his seemingly untenable situation. “The biggest victory is to make movies in the first place,” Stone said.
Panahi’s newest film, “Three Faces,” will debut at Cannes later this week.
Additional reporting by Anne Thompson.