Mohammad Rasoulof’s ‘Seed of the Sacred Fig’ Shakes Up Cannes With 2024 Record 12-Minute Standing Ovation, Becoming Palme d’Or Frontrunner

It looks like Cannes might have saved the best for last.

“The Seed of the Sacred Fig,” Mohammad Rasoulof’s drama about a family in Tehran divided over the oppressive practices of the Iranian government, earned a rapturous 12-minute standing ovation at its Cannes Film Festival premiere on Friday in the final hours of the festival. Rasoulof risked his life by appearing at the screening after fleeing Iran for Europe on May 13 to avoid going to prison. He’d been sentenced to eight years in jail by Iranian authorities for making a film that criticizes the regime.

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Therefore, Rasoulof’s arrival at Cannes played like a political statement of its own. And the audience inside the Palais greeted him with rapturous applause as he took his seat.

The clapping resumed during the film’s end credits (though it is Variety‘s policy to begin timing the standing ovation once the house lights come up), with Rasoulof getting teary and waving enthusiastically to the balcony. Ali Abbasi, the director of fellow competition title “The Apprentice,” stood in front of Rasoulof and encouraged the crowd to keep clapping — not that they needed it, as their cheers just got louder and louder. There was even a sign in the audience reading “Femme! Vie! Liberté!” (“Woman! Life! Freedom!”), the slogan for solidarity with Iranian women who are demonstrating for their fundamental rights.

All in all, the film earned the biggest standing ovation of the competition titles this year — and right before the festival’s closing ceremony on Saturday. The ecstatic response to and political weight of “The Seed of the Sacred Fig” has now cemented its status as a frontrunner for the festival’s prestigious Palme d’Or which will be awarded by a jury led by director Greta Gerwig.

At the premiere of “The Seed of the Sacred Fig,” he thanked the crowd in Farsi, expressing hope for a better future in Iran and saying that many actors in the film didn’t have permission to come to Cannes. On the red carpet, Rasoulof — who has previously served prison time in Iran for the political nature of his films — held up images of stars Soheila Golestani and Missagh Zareh, who were unable to leave Iran for the premiere. In addition to his prison sentence, Iranian authorities had been pressuring him to pull “The Seed of the Sacred Fig” from Cannes and harassing the film’s producers and actors. In an interview with Variety on Thursday, Rasoulof said that Golestani has been arrested by Iranian security services.

“The Seed of the Sacred Fig” follows Iman (played by Zareh), an “investigating judge in the Revolutionary Court in Tehran, who grapples with mistrust and paranoia as nationwide political protests intensify and his gun mysteriously disappears,” according to its official synopsis. The movie stars Mahsa Rostami as Iman’s wife and Setareh Maleki as his daughter.

Rasoulof is a Cannes mainstay, having premiered his 2011 film “Goodbye” in the Un Certain Regard section, where he won a directing award; 2013’s “Manuscripts Don’t Burn,” which also played in Un Certain Regard and won the FIPRESCI prize; and 2017’s “A Man of Integrity,” which won Un Certain Regard’s top prize.

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