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Iran director's identity was hidden even from his actress

Setareh Maleki (L) with director Mohammad Rasoulof (C) and co-star Mahsa Rostami
— Cannes (France) (AFP)

A hard-hitting Iranian film about the country's women-led protests that has wowed Cannes was kept so secret that even its star didn't know who was making it for several months, she told the festival on Saturday.

"The Seed of the Sacred Fig" has blown away critics at the Cannes Film Festival with its powerful depiction of a family torn apart by the "Women, Life, Freedom" protests that erupted in Iran in 2022.

It is considered a frontrunner for an award at the closing ceremony later on Saturday.

Its director, Mohammad Rasoulof, got the idea while serving time in prison for his previous uncompromising films and had to make it in extreme secrecy.

Setareh Maleki, who plays one of the daughters, said she was not afraid to get involved.

"I'm a bit crazy so choosing this role wasn't a problem for me," she told reporters in Cannes.

"I was the first or second person to join the team and for months, people didn't tell me who the director was in order to ensure the project remained safe.

"But I guessed it was Mohammad Rasoulof. Who (else) would have this courage?" she added.

Rasoulof, who fled the country just before the festival, had a message for his fellow filmmakers in Iran: "Don't be intimidated."

Iran's rulers "have no other weapons than terror", he said.

"We must not fear them. We must believe in freedom and fight for a dignified life in our country."

"The Iranian regime, which presents itself as the supreme power, is in a panic that our stories will be told. It's absurd," he added.

Rasoulof said he got the idea for the film after meeting a prison official who admitted he was challenged constantly by his children over his work, and thought regularly about hanging himself in front of the prison doors.

He said the theme of the film was indoctrination by people who have "turned religion into a political weapon".

"It's a totalitarian situation, a dictatorship, which is taking root in the country in the name of religion.

"The Islamic Republic has taken the Iranian people hostage," he said.