Film director Mohammad Rasoulof flees Iran after flogging, prison sentence ahead of Cannes premiere of The Seed of the Sacred Fig

Film director Mohammad Rasoulof flees Iran after flogging, prison sentence ahead of Cannes premiere of The Seed of the Sacred Fig

Mohammad Rasoulof, a celebrated Iranian director whose latest film is competing in the Cannes Film Festival, has fled Iran after being sentenced to flogging and eight years in prison on national security charges.

In a statement dated on Sunday, Rasoulof said he was in an unspecified location in Europe. “I had to choose between prison and leaving Iran. With a heavy heart, I chose exile,” it said.

Rasoulof said he made the decision after he learned about a month ago that his sentence had been confirmed.

“Knowing that the news of my new film would be revealed very soon, I knew that without a doubt, a new sentence would be added to these eight years,” he said, according to the statement.

Rasoulof at the Cannes Film Festival in 2017. Photo: AFP

“I am grateful to my friends, acquaintances, and people who kindly, selflessly, and sometimes by risking their lives, helped me get out of the border and reach a safe place on the difficult and long path of this journey,” Rasoulof wrote on his official Instagram page.

Taking aim at the Islamic republic’s theocratic leaders, Rasoulof said he was joining millions of Iranians across the world in the exile of a “cultural Iran” outside a “geographical Iran” which “suffers under the boots of your religious tyranny”.

“They [Iranians in exile] are impatiently waiting to bury you and your system of oppression in the depths of history,” he wrote.

Rasoulof was sentenced by an Iranian court to eight years in prison, of which five were expected to be served, on charges of “collusion against national security”, his lawyer Babak Paknia said last week.

“I can confirm that Mohammad Rasoulof has left Iran and will attend the Cannes festival,” Paknia said on Monday.

The announcement spurred speculation that Rasoulof may attend the premiere next Friday of The Seed of the Sacred Fig.



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Rasoulof, 51, was not believed to have been in jail. It is common in Iran for defendants to be outside prison when sentences are handed out and later called to jail to serve their terms.

The director, whose passport was confiscated in September 2017, also criticised the scope and intensity of repression by Iranian authorities and called for the world cinema community to stand by filmmakers facing censorship and defend freedom of speech.

Iranian authorities had pressured Rasoulof to withdraw his film from Cannes, he said.

A statement from Rasoulof’s French distributors was more circumspect on his attendance in Cannes, saying he was “currently staying in an undisclosed location in Europe, raising the possibility that he might be present at the world premiere of his most recent film”.

“We are very happy and much relieved that Mohammad has safely arrived in Europe after a dangerous journey. We hope he will be able to attend the Cannes premiere,” Jean-Christophe Simon, CEO of Films Boutique and Parallel45, added in the statement.

It was not clear how Rasoulof had left Iran. Dissidents who feel in danger from authorities in the Islamic republic have been known to seek to cross to Europe via the mountainous land border with Turkey.

Mohammad Seddighimehr and Baran Rasoulof in a still from Mohammad Rasoulof’s There Is No Evil. Photo: Filminiran

Rasoulof, who won the Golden Bear, the Berlin Film Festival’s top prize, in 2020 with his anti-capital punishment film There Is No Evil, had himself been detained in July 2022.

He was released in late 2023 after anti-government protests that began in September 2022 subsided.

The distributors said the identity of cast and crew as well as details of the plot and script of the new film have been kept under wraps “due to concerns about reprisals by the Iranian regime”.

Rasoulof said in the statement issued by the distributors that a number of the actors in the new film managed to leave Iran but others remain in the country and subject to lengthy interrogations by the intelligence services aimed at pressuring him to pull the film from Cannes.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse



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