The world needs movies like ‘The Seed of the Sacred Fig’

For example, one type of artistic courage involves an actor endure it all, low self-esteem is damnable. And then there’s the courage shown—in front of and behind the camera—in Seeds of the sacred fig treea slow-burning drama set in chaotic, repressive modern-day Iran, premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on May 24. The film’s director, Mohammad Rasoulof, fled Iran after receiving an eight-year prison sentence for his film, and the film’s actors were investigated by the state. These artists know such an outcome is possible – the inevitable consequence of publicly criticizing the Iranian government – ​​but they make the film anyway, so they are deeply committed to the urgency of the message mine.

Holy Figure is about a family in Tehran, comfortably middle class but ready to move up to a new economic class. The father, Iman (Missagh Zagreb), works for the country’s judicial system and has been promoted to investigative judge. The position comes with certain perks and social cachet but also involves signing death warrants after hasty, perfunctory investigations. His doting wife, Najmeh (notable Soheila Golestani), is excited that the family will be moving to a three-bedroom apartment for her teenage daughter, Rezvan (Mahsa Rostami) and Sana (Setareh Maleki), won’t have to share a bedroom. Iman is stressed about work, haunted by the weight of her decisions, but on the other hand, the family seems satisfied enough, a picture of stability.

However, noises from outside signal an approaching storm. Protesters took to the streets after the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman who died in 2022 at the direction of the government. suspicious case in police custody, after she was arrested for allegedly wearing a headscarf incorrectly. The protests that followed were massive and resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people and the arrests of thousands more. As Iman’s workload grows heavier with each round of protest raids, requiring him to make countless dire judgments every day, his daughters begin to rebel against the rules. strictness of their homeland and country.

Rasoulof unfolds this story at a deliberate pace, introducing plot elements that seem small at first but gradually spread like cracks in a windshield. When we first see a shotgun — given to Iman for his protection — we’re pretty sure it will have some grim function later on. The same thing happened to the classmate Rezvan brought home one day, a small-town girl who had moved to Tehran to study and had found herself, whether she liked it or not, in the midst of a wave of uprisings. . There’s a bit of suspense here, but Rasoulof mostly keeps the first half of the film focused on social manners, all the careful negotiations required when living under the glaring eye of totalitarianism.

He’s setting the stage for the second half of Holy Figurein which the fragilely maintained family order collapses and the film’s allegorical engine is set in motion. Seeds of the sacred fig tree is about everyday Iranians, especially women, realizing that a monster—or at least, an official of a monstrous entity—is in the house with them. With calm emphasis, Rasoulof describes the awakening of perhaps all Iranians, who found themselves no longer able to endure or ignore the injustices occurring on their doorstep — as well as those who in their communities or families who help perpetuate that injustice.

This is a sad and scary story about the breakup of a family, but Rasoulof also offers some hope. He interweaves actual footage of recent protests throughout the film, most of it shot in the narrow vertical aspect ratio of cell phone video—perhaps the most effective tool of our time. modern to document state brutality. Many of these clips are horrifying: beatings, shootings, young men lying dead in the streets. They are visual reminders of the fiction of Holy Figure—a narrative film can only reveal so much, can only leave us imagining what Rasoulof then shows us in stark reality.

But the footage isn’t completely crushed. At a key moment in the film, Rasoulof turns to images of women protesting, both alone and collectively. I think it’s a deeply humbling act – a solemn acknowledgment that Rasoulof’s fable has its own purpose, but perhaps it best functions as a signal to those who bravely cry out. called on the front lines of reality. Seeds of the sacred fig tree is a poignant tribute to the filmmaker’s many country women who continue to risk it all in the fight for their lives.


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