Iranian filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulof flees to Europe ahead of Cannes premiere


In this file photo, Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof poses during the 70th edition of the Cannes Film Festival on May 17, 2017.  © Loic Venance, AFP

Iranian film director Mohammad Rasoulof said Monday he had left Iran after being sentenced to jail on national security charges, a day ahead of the opening of the Cannes Film Festival where his new film is in the main competition.

“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, whose film “The Seed of the Sacred Fig” is to premiere at Cannes, wrote on his official Instagram page. 

Rasoulof was sentenced by an Iranian court to eight years in jail, of which five were due 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 told AFP on Monday.

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.

‘Dangerous journey’

A statement from his French distributors was more circumspect on his attendance in Cannes, saying Rasoulof 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.

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.

Paknia had said earlier this month that some crew members had been “interrogated” this week and last week while actors on the film had also been questioned and barred from leaving the country.

The subject matter of the film and its cast remain under wraps, according to film industry media. It was not immediately clear how many people working on it were interrogated.