Iran’s banned director Rasoulof wins top prize at dark Berlinale

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Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof speaks over a mobile phone held up by his daughter Baran after winning the Golden Bear for best picture at the Berlinale on Saturday

Torture of a woman at a Soviet-era physics institute and a young American woman’s effort to secure an abortion against all odds were among the subjects of the winning films at a 70th Berlinale that more than lived up to advance word it would be dark.
As a sombre final touch, Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof, whose film “There Is No Evil” won the Golden Bear for best picture at the awards ceremony on Saturday night, was unable to accept in person because his passport has been confiscated.
“I’m very, very overwhelmed and happy for this award and at the same time I’m very sad because this is for a filmmaker who couldn’t be here tonight,” Rasoulof’s daughter Baran, who appears in the film, said, accepting on his behalf at the ceremony held at the Berlinale Palast.
“I want to say on behalf of everybody on the team that this is for him,” she said, holding up the 11-day-long festival’s top prize.
The jury president, British actor Jeremy Irons, said the film portrayed “the web an authoritarian regime weaves among ordinary people, drawing them towards inhumanity”.
Rasoulof’s film, which won near-unanimous critical acclaim, is essentially four separate films linked by their focus on military men who are assigned to execution duties. Some refuse to carry out the assignments, others obey. Whatever the choice, the decision affects their lives and those of the people around them.
The making of the film had its own drama, since Rasoulof has been banned by Iran’s ruling Islamic authorities from filmmaking. He was charged with making propaganda when he returned to Iran after winning an award at the Cannes film festival in 2017. Not only did Rasoulof defy the ban, with a variety of subterfuges, but the cast and production crew took enormous risks.
Farzad Pak, the executive producer, praised everyone involved, saying, “The empathy and effort they put into this film, and the risks they took for this film, the result is what you see on the screen.”
Rasoulof was able to make his own comment, calling in by mobile phone which Baran held up on the podium at the post-ceremony conference.
“This film is about people taking responsibility,” the director said. “You can try to pass the buck, and I wanted to talk about people who push responsibility away from themselves, and say that the decision is taken by higher powers. But they can actually say no, and that’s their strength.”
There is pretty much no way to say no to the higher authorities in another of the Berlinale winners, “DAU. Natasha”, whose German cinematographer, Jurgen Jurges, won the Silver Bear for best cinematography. The film is part of the massive DAU project which has involved thousands of people working at a reconstruction in Ukraine of a Cold War-era Soviet physics institute.
One of the scenes Jurges filmed depicts the torture of a woman through vaginal penetration with a bottle. Another segment of the DAU project shown at the festival, the six-hour-long “DAU. Degeneration”, includes a pig being slaughtered and butchered on a dining room carpet, with no way to claim no animals were harmed.
Jurges acknowledged that the DAU project, helmed by director Ilya Khrzhanovskiy, includes shocking scenes, but contended there is another reason for its being banned in Russia. “(Vladimir) Putin had the same rank in the KGB as our KGB officer (Vladimir Azhippo) in the film, I think that has something to do with it,” he said.
Eliza Hittman’s “Never Rarely Sometimes Always”, which won the second-place Silver Bear, is the story of two teenage women friends from rural Pennsylvania who defy their families and anti-abortion activists, redtape and lack of funds to obtain an abortion for one of them in New York City.
“It’s a deeply feminist movie made by a woman and it is a reflection of the journey that many women take all over the world when they do not have control over their bodies,” Hittman told reporters after receiving the award.
“I believe it will have an international release…a small movie that is set in rural Pennsylvania and New York City can speak to audiences overseas.”

By Michael Roddy

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