prostitutes and serial killers, Iran as never seen

published on Sunday, May 22, 2022 at 7:44 p.m.

A killer of prostitutes, “cleaning” in the name of God the slums of one of the holiest cities in Iran, to the applause of the population: director Ali Abbasi, in competition at Cannes, unveils another Republic Islamic.

“The Nights of Mashhad” “is one of the rare (Iranian, editor’s note) films that shows reality,” director Ali Abbasi, a Dane of Iranian origin who marked the competition on Sunday, told AFP. thriller with David Fincher sauce – in the land of the mullahs.

The director is inspired by a resounding news item twenty years ago: he retraces the journey of the murderer of 16 prostitutes, who during his trial claimed to have wanted to cleanse the streets of Mashhad from vice, one of the main holy cities of Shiism.

In the film, “the Spider”, as this killer was nicknamed, prowls on the handlebars of his motorbike in the shady streets of a city with the air of “Sin City”, where prostitution and drugs prosper – it is located on major traffic routes from Afghanistan. The prostitutes who ride with him most often end up strangled on the floor of his apartment.

After abandoning their bodies on the side of the road, he telephones a journalist, always the same, to claim responsibility for his crime. The police don’t seem to be in a hurry to arrest him until a young journalist from Tehran decides to track down the criminal herself and make him pay for his murders.

“I don’t feel like it’s an anti-government movie or an activist movie. What it portrays isn’t far from the truth, and if anyone has a problem” with the movie , which crudely shows sex and drugs, as well as the misogyny of society, “he has a problem with reality, not with me”, launches Ali Abbasi, in an interview with AFP.

Obviously, the filmmaker, who completely changes the register compared to “Border”, which revealed it at Cannes in 2018, could not shoot in the holy city, nor even in Iran – where he explains that he never received a response to his requests for filming authorization.

– Pious and psychopathic –

He explains that the film crew was then expelled from Turkey, where they had retreated, under pressure from the Islamic Republic, and ended up recreating the sets in Jordan.

“For me, it would be very easy to say that the filmmakers who are in Iran do not show the reality”, specifies Ali Abbasi, one of the two Iranians in the running for the Palme this year, with Saeed Roustaee, while the director multi-award-winning Asghar Farhadi is on the jury, but “it’s not about judging them because every film made in Iran is a miracle”.

In “The Nights of Mashhad”, opposite the two-faced killer, pious and tidy family man by day, psychopath by night, played by Iranian actor Mehdi Bajestani, the filmmaker recruited Zar Amir Ebrahimi, a television actress who ended up leaving the country and taking refuge in France after the broadcast of an “explicit” video of her ruined her career.

Far from ending with the arrest of the criminal, the film is also worth its second part, his judicial journey during which he claims his acts in the name of religion in the middle of the trial, the embarrassment of the judges faced with the support of those who see his crimes as a “sacrifice”. Until his death sentence.

Will he finally be executed? Until the end, the coin seems to be able to fall on any side. “In Iran, the judicial system (…) is really a fucking theater, like a TV show where (the scriptwriters) can obtain the result they want for the characters”, notes the director, whose film is to be released July 13 in France.

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