Monday, July 13, 2020

BERLINALE: THE WINNER WHO WASN’T THERE

February 29, 2020 by · Leave a Comment 

Baran Rasoulof, who accepted top award at German Film Festival on behalf of her father.

In an extraordinary conclusion to this year’s Berlin Film Festival — The Berlinale — the Iranian director who won the Golden Bear for best film was unable to accept the honor — because he was barred from leaving his country by the current regime. In fact, Mohammad Rasoulof, whose film, There Is No Evil, won out over 17 others selected for this year’s competition, is awaiting imprisonment for the crime of making propaganda against his government after the appeal of his conviction was recently rejected. His films are produced surreptitiously and smuggled out of the country. They have never been shown publicly in Iran. In his absence in Berlin, his actress daughter Baran, who appears in There Is No Evil, accepted the Golden Bear award on his behalf.

The Silver Bear for best actress went to Paul Beer for her performance in German director Christian Petzold’s Undine, while the Silver Bear for best actor went to Elio Germano for his role as Italian painter Antonio Ligabue in Italian director Giorgio Diritti’s Hidden Away. 

In an interview with Variety‘s Nick Vivarelli, Rasoulof said last week that the travel ban — his passport was lifted — that was imposed on him “clearly exposes the intolerant and despotic nature of the Iranian government.” He added that, while he has not been banned outright from making films — as other Iranian filmmakers have — Iranian authorities “make your life harder every time by not giving permits and not letting you work.” Simply making a film in Iran, he remarked, represents “a massive resistance to the power and to the censorship system.” He expressed pride that he was able to gather together a film crew “sharing my views and my desire to resist the system and my making this film happen no matter what.”

There Is No Evil consists of four loosely connected stories, each of which concerns a protagonist coming to grips with conscience. For example, how does an otherwise caring person whose job it is to release the trap door at official hangings accept such an assignment? As Variety critic Peter Debruge concluded in his review, the film actually takes the counter position of its title, “There is evil in the world, and it corrupts us when we don’t take a stand. What would you do in the characters’ shoes? What will you do in your own?” Other critics mostly praised the first story in the quadrilogy but found the other three wanting. Said Lee Marshall in the British trade publication Screen Daily: “Nothing in the two hours that follow quite matches [the first segment’s] tour de force.” Deborah Young in The Hollywood Reporter agreed that the segment “is a perfectly balanced and crafted little jewel,” but then commented, “It is disappointing that nothing at this level follows it.” Still, she concluded, “One fine episode is worth the price of admission.”

Rasoulof apparently would have agreed with the critics. In that interview with Variety, he observed, “I haven’t been able to make it look as beautiful as I wanted in this film,” but the overall result, he added, is “positive and makes me want to go on resisting against the absurd and excessive censorship system that we live in.”

UPDATE

Iranian authorities on Tuesday, March 3 ordered Rasoulof to turn himself in to begin serving a one-year sentence following his conviction on charges of making propaganda against the state. He was also ordered to desist from making films for two years. Several reports indicated that he may not immediately obey the summons because of the coronavirus threat. Britain’s Guardian reported on Thursday that 54,000 Iranian prisoners have been released from jail temporarily in an effort to prevent the virus from spreading through Iran’s penitentiaries.