The Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, who is banned from making movies or leaving the country, managed to smuggle a new movie out to the Cannes Film Festival — and get a standing ovation for it.
“Seh Rokh” (“Three Faces”) shows the director and the Iranian actress Behnaz Jafari driving off to a mountain village in the Iranian region of Azarbaijan, looking for a young woman who has sent a distressing video message. In the video, she says that she is desperate to go to university, but is prevented by her conservative family, and is in a state of utter despair.
Empathizing with the young woman and determined to help her, Jafari convinces Panahi to accompany her on this rescue mission. Moving and beautiful, the film takes place inside Panahi’s car, and in the villages of Azerbaijan, where the pair makes a number of charming encounters.
At the red-carpet screening, Panahi — represented by an empty seat — received a standing ovation.
“I saw a beautiful movie at Cannes on Saturday night — an artful, surprising and thrillingly intelligent story about a few women trying to make a difference, forging bonds of solidarity in quiet defiance of the repressive, small-minded men in their rural village,” wrote Justin Chang, the film critic of the Los Angeles Times.
Chang noted that Panahi had won prizes at Europe’s two other main film festivals — Berlin and Venice. If he won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, he would have “effectively scored the European film-festival equivalent of the Triple Crown.”
Other reviews were also very favorable. Only the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw gave a muted assessment, meaning three stars out of five.
He said Panahi seemed to be “reaching back 20 years or so to an earlier kind of classic Iranian cinema,” reminiscent of the movies of the late Abbas Kiarostami, and that he wished the banned filmmaker would instead engage with the politics and society of modern Iran.
The Festival ends May 19, when the winners are announced.