CANNES, France — Iranian Zar Amir Ebrahimi, who is living in exile following a smear campaign over her love life, wept with joy as she won the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival on Saturday night. Ebrahimi, 41, won for “Holy Spider,” in which she plays a journalist trying to solve the serial murders of prostitutes in the holy city of Mashhad. “I’ve come a long way to be on that stage tonight. It wasn’t an easy story,” she told the audience at the awards show.
She says she was “saved by the cinema”. “It was humiliation but there was cinema, it was loneliness but there was cinema, it was darkness but there was cinema. Now I stand before you on a night of “Holy Spider,” directed by Danish-Iranian Ali Abbasi, is inspired by the true story of a working-class man who killed prostitutes in the early 2000s and became known as “Spider Killer.” Abbasi was denied permission to film in Iran and it was eventually filmed in Jordan.
Ebrahimi became a star in Iran in her early twenties for her supporting role in one of her longest-running soap operas, “Nargess.” But her life and career came crashing down shortly after the show ended, when a sex tape leaked online in 2006 which she claims featured her. Ebrahimi’s character in “Holy Spider” has also been the victim of lascivious gossip and male predation. The film suggests there was little official pressure to catch the murderer, who eventually became a hero among the religious right. “This film is about women, their bodies, it’s a film full of faces, hair, hands, feet, breasts, sex – all things that are impossible to show in Iran,” Ebrahimi said. “Thank you, Ali Abbasi, for being so mad and so generous and for steering this mighty thing through thick and thin.” At a press conference following the film’s premiere, Ebrahimi said she was inspired by her true journalist friends in Iran.
“I know the difficulties they face every day,” she said. “Many of my journalist friends, especially women, left Iran right after me.” Abbasi insisted the film should not be considered controversial. “Everything shown here is part of people’s daily lives. There is enough evidence that Iranians also have sex.
There is plenty of evidence of prostitution in every city in Iran,” he said.
Ebrahimi grew up in Tehran where she went to drama school, directing her first film at 18, and quickly rose to prominence for playing wise and morally upright characters. In 2006, Iranian investigators began investigating a widely circulated black market video that claimed to show the young soap opera star having sex with her boyfriend. The author of the leak, threatened with arrest, fled the country. Ebrahimi said at the time that she had been the victim of an “immoral campaign”. The case became so publicized that Tehran’s chief prosecutor handled it personally.
Ebrahami then moved to Paris, speaking no French, and kept himself afloat with odd jobs.
“I knew nothing about the cinema industry in France,” she told the daily Le Monde. “There was no one to help me. It took me two or three years to figure out where I had landed.
At the awards ceremony, she thanked France, calling her adopted homeland “exotic, paradoxical – happy but loves to be unhappy”.
“Holy Spider” garnered several rave reviews at Cannes, with The Hollywood Reporter saying it was “equal parts engrossing and disturbing, and not always for the faint-hearted”.
The Guardian called the film a “strangely fictionalized tale”, but added that “Abbasi undoubtedly conveys the brutal attitudes that create victimhood”.