Oscar-winning Iranian urges Tehran: Let banned director go to Cannes

CANNES, France (Reuters) - The double-Oscar winning filmmaker who opened the Cannes Film Festival has made a last-minute plea to Iran to let a fellow Iranian director, who is officially banned from working and traveling, come to the premiere of his own film.

Seated alongside Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz, the stars of his new movie, Asghar Farhadi said Iran should allow acclaimed director Jafar Panahi to attend the festival where they both have movies competing for the Palme d’Or.

“I think there’s still time,” he said of getting Panahi to the Saturday premiere of his film “3 Faces”. In it, Panahi plays himself, a filmmaker, who is asked by an actress to help a provincial girl who has made a video plea for assistance in dealing with her conservative family.

“I would like to send this message: I hope the decision will be taken to allow him to come,” Farhadi said at the end of a news conference on his own movie “Everybody Knows” on Wednesday.

Farhadi, who won foreign language Oscars for films made in Iran - “A Separation” and “The Salesman” - is free to come and go from his home country as he makes films there and in Europe.

But Panahi, who won the Camera d’Or in Cannes in 1995 for his debut “The White Balloon”, was arrested after the 2009 protests against the re-election of hardline conservative president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and banned from making films.

Despite that, he has continued working under the radar, starting with “This Is Not a Film”, shot in his Tehran apartment on a mobile phone, and more recently “Taxi” in which he plays himself as a film director now working as a taxi driver - winning the Golden Bear for best film at the Berlin film festival in 2015.

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“It’s wonderful that he has continued his work in such adversity,” Farhadi told reporters.

“It’s a very strange feeling for me to be able to be here but not him. It’s something I have difficulty living with.”

The gala screening of “Everybody Knows” on Tuesday evening coincided with U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcement that he was pulling of the international 2015 nuclear deal with Iran - delivering a bittersweet moment for Iranians.

“It was a very strange day with very mixed feelings,” Farhadi told Reuters in an interview.

“We were very happy to see our movie open the competition, and, at the same, to see a deal that took years to reach broken by just one person was a terrible event for my people,” he said.

“Maybe they figured they would put the Iranian government under pressure, but the first people to undergo the pressure will be the Iranian people,” Farhadi said, referring to the likely economic effect of new U.S. sanctions.

“The mother waiting for medication for her child, human rights activists and women activists who are dedicating their lives to improve the state of this country – they will be given a hard time much more than the government.”

The Cannes Film Festival runs from May 8 to May 19.

Reporting by Robin Pomeroy, Editing by Mark Heinrich