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‘The Seed of the Sacred Fig’ Review: Mohammad Rasoulof Stuns Again



Out of all the key filmmakers to emerge from Iran over the previous many years, Mohammad Rasoulof has actually grown into essentially the most overtly political. His finely crafted dramas, together with the excellent 2020 Berlin Golden Bear Winner There Is No Evil, make no qualms about tackling his nation’s oppressive regime and spiritual theocracy head-on, pulling few punches of their depictions of a nation beneath siege.

This clearly explains why the director has been focused by the Iranian authorities since 2010, when he was first arrested together with Jafar Panahi for capturing a film in secret. After receiving a six-year jail sentence, he ultimately acquired out on bail — solely to be formally banned from leaving the nation in 2017. He was arrested once more in 2022, spent months in Tehran’s infamous Evin Jail, acquired an eight-year sentence in 2024 and eventually determined to flee the nation earlier this month, arriving simply in time to premiere his newest movie in Cannes.

The Seed of the Sacred Fig

The Backside Line

Overty political and deeply private.

Venue: Cannes Movie Competition (Competitors)
Forged: Misagh Zare, Soheila Golestani, Mahsa Rostami, Setareh Maleki, Niousha Akshi, Reza Akhlaghi
Director, screenwriter: Mohammad Rasoulof

2 hours 48 minutes

It’s value mentioning all of this as a result of that new movie — the darkish and sprawling 3-hour household drama, The Seed of the Sacred Fig — could be very a lot about Iran’s draconian authorized system and what it does to the human psyche, which is clearly a topic Rasoulof is aware of intimately. However as an alternative of turning the digicam on himself, in the best way that fellow Iranian auteur Panahi has achieved through the years in his numerous meta-fictions (This Is Not a Movie, No Bears, Taxi), the director has determined to give attention to the very sorts of people that have been making his life hell.

Shot clandestinely and set for essentially the most half in a single somber Tehran house, Sacred Fig depicts a household of 4 whose patriarch, Iman (Misagh Zare), has simply been named an investigating decide — a promotion that guarantees him each a much bigger flat and a greater place in Iran’s judicial hierarchy. Supported, a minimum of initially, by his pious spouse, Najmeh (Soheila Golestani), and his two teenage daughters, Rezvan (Mahsa Rostami) and Sana (Setareh Maleki), Iman and his clan appear set for a comfortable bourgeois life.

However there are instantly cracks within the floor, starting with the truth that Iman’s new job requires him to hold a loaded gun for defense — a gun that, as with every good Chekhovian plot, might be put to make use of afterward. There’s additionally Iman’s colleague, Ghaderi (Reza Akhlaghi), who advises him to signal a detainee’s dying sentence with out even reviewing the file, which is the best way issues appear to operate of their division. And at last, there’s the eruption of the large youth protest motion in late 2022 following the dying of Mahsa Amini, who was arrested for refusing to put on a hijab.

As a lot as Iman desires to guard himself and his family, the world retains banging at their door — whether or not by way of on-line movies the women watch on their telephones, information experiences that reveal sure info however are principally state-sponsored propaganda, or the precise sound of individuals shouting within the streets beneath. In a way, Sacred Fig is a house invasion film wherein the household’s sanctity, and in the end its bodily security, is threatened by exterior forces tearing them aside from the within as nicely.

The horror film motif takes over within the movie’s latter half when it turns into clear that the monster is, in reality, Iman himself. Rasoulof by no means disguises his hatred for the decide, even when he first depicts him as a person caught between pressures on the workplace and at dwelling, the place the promise of a greater house is a significant boon for the household. However the director can also be clear about whom we’re coping with: a person who, in contrast to the decide serving earlier than him, has few qualms about sending an unknown felon to the gallows. Rasoulof couldn’t be extra blunt about the truth that success inside Iran’s imposing forms means crushing different folks, and generally strolling over their corpses.

We get firsthand accounts of this from all of the 2022 protest movies Rezvan and Sana share behind their dad and mom’ backs — movies the place police and pro-regime thugs beat college students to a pulp, leaving them bleeding out or lifeless on the sidewalk. The violence ultimately enters the house when Rezvan’s free-spirited faculty pal, Safdaf (Niousha Akhshi), will get hit within the face by buckshot at an illustration, leaving her disfigured and presumably blind in a single eye. Rasoulof lingers over her wounds for a very long time as Najmeh painstakingly removes every steel ball with tweezers, dumping them right into a sink drenched in blood.

Once more, we’re in a horror film, however the horror is what the Iranian authorities is doing to its personal folks, and particularly to younger girls. Rasoulof doubles down on that theme when Iman’s tackle is leaked on-line by protestors, forcing him to all of a sudden flee town alongside along with his spouse and daughters. In the meantime, the pistol he was given for defense has gone lacking, and it’s attainable one in every of his women took it. The director continues to drum up the suspense when, after a Hollywood-style automotive chase that’s completely executed, the clan arrives at Iman’s childhood dwelling within the mountains, the place issues positively take a flip for the dramatic and a number of other weapons come again into play.

Is all of it a bit excessive? Definitely. Is it worse than what’s occurring on Tehran’s streets? No. As Rasoulof intercuts actual footage and fiction, we notice that what the household goes by way of is an extension of what all the nation has been dealing with. The protests following Mahsa Amini’s dying had been about girls preventing for his or her freedom towards a brutal and oppressive patriarchy, which is strictly what the younger Rezvan and Sana — and ultimately their mom as nicely — are pushed to do towards Iman, who transforms into the ugly face of the regime as he tries to save lots of his personal pores and skin.

That The Secret of the Sacred Fig begins off just like the sort of delicate, intricately made chamber piece that Iranian cinema has been recognized for, whether or not in movies like Shut-Up or A Separation, solely to veer towards one thing way more horrific, is thus solely pure. Provided that he’s one of many main chroniclers of his nation’s dire state, and one whose personal life and safety cling within the stability with every new film, it’s laborious proper now to think about Rasoulof making one thing else.

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