“The Nights of Mashhad” in competition at the Cannes Film Festival

[Découvrez ci-dessus, le reportage de notre envoyé spécial au Festival de Cannes]

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

“The Nights of Mashhad is one of the few films (Iranians, editor’s note) which shows the reality”director Ali Abbasi, a Dane of Iranian origin who marked the competition on Sunday, told AFP with this thriller. David Fincher – 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 movie, “the Spider”as this killer was nicknamed, rides his motorcycle through the shady streets of a city that looks like a “Sin City”, where prostitution and drugs thrive – it is located on major trafficking 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 depicts isn’t far from the truth, and if anyone has a problem” with the film, which starkly shows sex and drugs, as well as the misogyny of society, “he has a problem with reality, not with me”spear Ali Abbasiin an interview with AFP.

Obviously, the filmmaker, who completely changes register compared to “Border”who revealed it at Cannes in 2018, could not shoot in the holy city, or 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He explains that the film crew was then expelled from Turkeywhere it had withdrawn, under pressure from the Islamic Republic, and ended up recreating the sets in Jordan.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 Roustaeewhile multi-award winning director Asghar Farhadi is on the jury, but “it’s not about judging them because every film made in Iran is a miracle”.

In “Nights of Mashhad”facing the two-faced killer, pious and tidy family man by day, psychopath by night, played by the Iranian actor Mehdi Bajestanithe filmmaker recruited Zar Amir Ebrahimia television actress who ended up leaving the country and taking refuge in France after the broadcast of a video of her “explicit” ruined his 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 or (the screenwriters) can get the result they want for the characters”notes the director, whose film is to be released on July 13 in France.

“The Nights of Mashhad” in competition at the Cannes Film Festival