La Presse at the 74th Berlinale | Cinema is political

(Berlin) Cinema is political, recalled this week the Ukrainian novelist, poet and activist Oksana Zabuzhko, who is part of the jury of the 74 competitione Berlinale. Anyone who saw Navalnythe fascinating Oscar-winning documentary last year by Canadian Daniel Roher, must not have been too surprised to learn of the death in an Arctic prison of the famous Russian dissident Alexei Navalny on Friday.

He “paid for his courage with his life,” declared Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelensky, who rushed to Berlin on Friday morning to sign a bilateral security agreement with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Navalny, a lawyer who had wanted to campaign against Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2018, was poisoned two years later before being treated in Berlin. He returned to Moscow, suspecting that he would immediately be imprisoned there and probably killed.

His wife, Yulia Navalnaïa, who lives in Germany, held Vladimir Putin “personally responsible” for the death of her husband on Friday at the Munich Security Conference, where Volodymir Zelensky is due to go this Saturday. Several hundred demonstrators gathered in front of the Russian embassy in Berlin on Unter den Linden avenue on Friday to chant anti-Putin slogans in Russian and German.

Politics is inseparable from cinema at the Berlin Film Festival. While the opening film, Small Things Like Thesedealt with the mistreatment of unmarried mothers by the Irish Catholic Church, another film in the competition, Keyke Mahboobe Man (My favorite cake), highlights the religious obscurantism of the Iranian Islamist regime.

Its filmmakers Maryam Moghaddam and Behtash Sanaeeha were banned from traveling to Berlin by Iranian authorities, who confiscated their passports as well as hard drives and computers containing images from their new film. “They are being pursued by the courts for their work as artists”, said the management of the Berlinale.

What are these 54 and 43 year old filmmakers considered dissidents guilty of? For showing on screen the banal life of a septuagenarian in Tehran. A retired spinster (Lily Farhadpour) who meets a taxi driver (Esmail Mehrabi) in a restaurant, whom she takes home one evening. She removes her veil, they listen to music, dance, drink wine. And maybe more.


Lily Farhadpour and Esmail Mehrabi in My favorite cake

“It is the story of a woman who lives her life, who wants to have a normal life, which is forbidden to women in Iran,” explained Maryam Moghaddam and Behtash Sanaeeha, held in Iran against their will, in a letter. and represented Friday at a press conference by a poster of them, smiling, in a bed, a flip flop in their hand.

“We feel like parents who are forbidden to even look at their newborn. We did not have the right today to watch the film with you, the demanding audience of this film festival. We are sad and tired, but we are not alone,” they added in this statement read at a press conference by the lead actress of their film, Lily Farhadpour.

The Berlinale has long given pride of place to Iranian filmmakers. “We expressed our solidarity with the courageous women and men of Iran as they stood against a regime that threatens any form of resistance,” German Culture Minister Claudia Roth said at the ceremony. opening of the festival, Thursday.

My favorite cake is perhaps not as accomplished as other Iranian films presented in Berlin – I am thinking in particular of A separation by Asghar Farhadi or Taxi Jafar Panahi, who both won the Golden Bear; the fact remains that it is a particularly courageous film in a climate of increasingly repressive censorship for filmmakers in Tehran.

“For years, Iranian filmmakers have been making films under restrictive rules, obeying red lines that, when crossed, can lead to years of suspension, bans and complicated trials. It is a painful experience, which we have lived through several times,” said the co-directors, whose most recent feature film, Forgiveness, was also entered in competition at the Berlinale in 2021. “We believe that it is no longer possible to tell the story of an Iranian woman while respecting these red lines. »

The filmmakers dedicated the world premiere of their film to the “brave and honorable women of our country, who have taken to the front lines to fight for social change and who are trying to tear down the walls of retrograde and fossilized beliefs, sacrificing their lives for freedom “.

With a moving thought for Mahsa Amini, who will never be 23 years old.

Accommodation costs were paid by the Berlinale and Telefilm Canada.

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