Iran s Zar Amir Ebrahimi wins best actress at Cannes

South Korea has big Cannes night with actor, director awards

May 29, 2022 02:20 PM

Iranian Zar Amir Ebrahimi, who lives in exile following a smear campaign about her love life, wept with joy as she won the best actress award at the Cannes Film Festival on Saturday. 

Ebrahimi, 41, won for "Holy Spider", in which she plays a journalist trying to solve the serial murders of prostitutes in the holy city of Mashhad.

"I have come a long way to be on this stage tonight. It was not an easy story," she told the audience at the awards ceremony.

She said she had been "saved by cinema". 

"It was humiliation but there was cinema, it was solitude but there was cinema, it was darkness but there was cinema. Now I'm standing in front of you on a night of joy."

"Holy Spider", directed by Danish-Iranian Ali Abbasi, is inspired by the true story of a working-class man who killed prostitutes in the early 2000s and became known as the "Spider Killer".

Abbasi was denied permission to film in Iran and it was ultimately shot in Jordan. 

Ebrahimi became a star in Iran in her early twenties for her supporting role in one of its longest-running soap operas, "Nargess". 

But her life and career fell apart shortly after the show ended, when a sex tape was leaked online in 2006 which, it was claimed, featured her.

- 'About women' -
Ebrahimi's character in "Holy Spider" has also been a victim of lascivious rumours and male predation. 

The film suggests there was little official pressure to catch the murderer, who ends up a hero among the religious right. 

"This film is about women, it's about their bodies, it's a movie full of faces, hair, hands, feet, breasts, sex -- everything that is impossible to show in Iran," Ebrahimi said.

Abbasi insisted the film should not be seen as controversial. 

"Everything shown here is part of people's everyday life. There is enough evidence that people in Iran have sex, too. There's ample evidence of prostitution in every city of Iran," he told reporters.  

Ebrahimi grew up in Tehran where she went to drama school, making her first film at 18, and quickly became known for playing wise and morally upstanding characters. 

- 'I still love Iran' -
In 2006, Iranian investigators began probing a video widely distributed on the black market that purported to show the young soap star making love to her boyfriend.

The leak's author, facing arrest, fled the country. Ebrahimi said at the time that she was the victim of an "immoral campaign". The case became so high-profile that Tehran's chief prosecutor handled it personally.

"They wanted to delete me from everywhere, remove me from cinema. Maybe to (commit) suicide, to die. But in the end I'm here with this award," she said at a post-award news conference.

Ebrahami then moved to Paris, speaking no French, and kept afloat with odd jobs.

"I knew nothing about the film industry in France," she told daily Le Monde. "There was nobody to help me. It took me two or three years to figure out where I had landed."

At the awards ceremony she thanked France, calling her adopted homeland "exotic, paradoxical -- happy but loves to be unhappy".

But she added: "I still love Iran. It's my beloved country, my first country and I love all those Iranian people -- even all those who destroyed my life."

"Holy Spider" drew several strong reviews in Cannes, with The Hollywood Reporter saying it was "equal parts gripping and disturbing, and not always for the squeamish".

The Guardian called the movie a "strangely fictionalised account", but added that "Abbasi undoubtedly conveys the brutal attitudes which create victimhood".

South Korea has big Cannes night

The South Korean cinema industry added to a global winning streak on Saturday by scooping two key prizes at the Cannes Film Festival for a pair of beloved veterans.

Star film-maker Park Chan-wook clinched the best director award for his erotic crime movie "Decision To Leave" while Song Kang-ho, best known for his role in the Oscar-winning "Parasite", picked up the best actor gong for "Broker".

The Cannes spotlight also fell on Lee Jung-jae, the superstar actor in Netflix's "Squid Game", whose debut as a director, "Hunt", screened out of competition.

Park's Cannes entry came nearly two decades after his "Oldboy" which won the festival's second-highest prize in 2004. 

That mind-bending shocker helped catapult South Korean cinema onto the global stage -- years before "Parasite", which won the 2019 Palme d'Or and best picture at the 2020 Academy Awards.

Park, 58, told the Cannes audience he was bullish about the future of movie-going.

"With the pandemic, borders were closed. We were very afraid of each other, and theatres were empty. But little by little, audiences will rediscover cinema," Park said.  

"Decision to Leave" features Chinese star Tang Wei and Korean actor Park Hae-il and tells the story of a detective who, investigating a man's fatal fall from a mountain, comes under the spell of the victim's wife, whom he suspects of having caused her husband's death.

- 'Not a romantic' -
The detective story, which drew comparisons with the far more sexually explicit thriller "Basic Instinct", increasingly meshes with the mutual attraction engulfing the main characters.

"I'm not a romantic, but I'm very interested in the expression of emotions," Park told AFP when the film premiered at the festival.

The film's mesmerising soundtrack includes the Adagietto in Gustav Mahler's 5th Symphony, immortalised in the 1971 movie "Death in Venice" by Luchino Visconti.

Park said the film drew inspiration from the methodical police work contained in the Swedish "Martin Beck" police procedural books. "That's what I wanted to represent in a movie," he said.

"Decision To Leave" was warmly received by Cannes audiences. The BBC called it a "cracking romantic thriller" and Britain's Screen magazine said it was a "deeply satisfying" tale.

- 'Bittersweet and complex' -
Song, 55, won acting honours for his role in "Broker" about a woman dropping off an unwanted child in a "baby box" for adoption.

He plays a kind-hearted middleman trying to sell the infant to a loving family in the Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda's first Korean-language feature.

Kore-eda won the Palme d'Or in 2018 for his touching family tale "Shoplifters".

"I am very happy for my whole family," Song said as he accepted the trophy at the gala ceremony on the French Riviera.

He said that the language and cultural barrier posed no problems on set.

"Kore-eda is very familiar with Korean culture so there weren't any differences when it came to getting along," he said. 

"Japanese cinema is very familiar to Koreans. Personally speaking I've seen almost all the films made by Kore-eda. There's lots of fans that love the aesthetics, which are typically Japanese." 

Something of a national treasure, Song has starred in several of the divided country's greatest movies.

Song has made four films with "Parasite" director Bong Joon-ho including the 2006 monster flick "The Host" and Bong's first English-language film "Snowpiercer", both of which were box office and critical smashes.

Starting his career on stage, Song made his first film appearance in 1996 in the now-acclaimed director Hong Sang-soo's debut movie, "The Day a Pig Fell into a Well". 

Since then, he has appeared in more than 30 films and worked with top South Korean filmmakers including Park Chan-wook, Kang Je-gyu and Lee Chang-dong.

British film magazine Screen called "Broker" "a sensitive and compassionate look at the market for unwanted children", while US movie website IndieWire said it was a "bittersweet and complex family drama".

The winners

The 75th edition of the Cannes Film Festival ended Saturday in the South of France with the awarding of its top prize, the Palme d'Or.

Here is a list of the winners:

- Palme d'Or: Ruben Ostlund for "Triangle of Sadness" (Sweden-Germany-France-Britain)

- Grand Prix: Shared by Lukas Dhont for "Close" (Belgium-Netherlands-France) and Claire Denis for "Stars at Noon" (France)

- Best director: Park Chan-wook "Decision to Leave" (South Korea)

- Best actress: Zar Amir Ebrahimi for "Holy Spider" (Denmark-Germany-Sweden-France)

- Best actor: Song Kang-ho for "Broker" (South Korea)

- Best screenplay: Tarik Saleh for "Boy from Heaven" (Sweden-France-Finland-Denmark)

- Jury prize: Shared by Jerzy Skolimowski for "EO" (Poland) and Charlotte Vandermeersch and Felix van Groeningen for "The Eight Mountains" (Italy-Belgium-France-Britain)

- Camera d'Or for best first film: Riley Keough and Gina Gammell for "War Pony" (United States)

- Best short film: Jianying Chen for "The Water Murmurs" (China) 

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