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Iranian Film Defying Censorship Receives Standing Ovation At Berlinale

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The non-conformist Iranian film “My Favorite Cake” was premiered on Friday at the 74th Berlin International Film Festival (Berlinale), where it received a 7-minute standing ovation.

Behtash Sanaeeha and Maryam Moqadam, the co-directors of the film, dedicated “My Favorite Cake” to “the dignified and free women of Iran.”

Produced secretly over the past two years in Tehran, the film has defied the Iranian regime’s draconian censorship rules and regulations by depicting women without compulsory hijab.

It represents normal lives of Iranians without government censorship, including such long-held cinematic taboos as men and women shaking hands, touching, hugging and drinking wine.

On Friday, the second day of the Berlin Film Festival, the press conference for “My Favorite Cake” was held without the attendance of the co-directors, who have been barred from leaving the country by the Islamic Republic. According to reports, the conference proceeded with photos of the two filmmakers on their empty seats as a gesture of commemoration.

During the press conference, Leili Farhadpour, one of the actors of the film, read Sanaeeha and Moqadam’s statement in their absence.

“We have come to believe that it is no longer possible to narrate the story of Iranian women by conforming to such strict rules as compulsory hijab,” the statement said, further adding that the red lines have for long precluded “the representation of the real lives of Iranian women as complete human beings.”

They added that Iranian filmmakers have been for many years facing stringent rules and red lines, the rejection of which can lead to arrests, long professional bans and complicated legal procedures.

In order to show one aspect of the reality of Iranian society which has been “lost in different layers of censorship” for years, we decided to cross all these red lines and we accept the consequences of our decisions, Sanaeeha and Moqadam stressed.

“My Favorite Cake” portrays the everyday lives of middle-aged women in contemporary Iran, with a special focus on the loneliness of a woman on the verge of old age.

The protagonist of the film is a 70-year-old woman, a role played by Leili Farhadpour, who experiences a new love following her husband’s death.

It has been a taboo for the Iranian cinema to show old women fall in love again, Farhadpour said during the film’s press conference in Berlin.

Referring to the regime’s strongly-policed red line to depict women always with hijab in Iranian films, even in their homes or while taking a shower, Farhadpour tauntingly added: “Women do not wear hijab when they sleep and the audience laughs when they [female actors] go to bed wearing a hijab in movies,” that are forced to implement censorship rules.

According to her, it was in the middle of filming “My Favorite Cake” that the Woman, Life, Freedom movement started in Iran in 2022.

“From the very beginning, the work was to be made in this way without women having to wear hijab,” she stressed.

Four months ago, Iranian security forces stormed the house of the film’s editor and confiscated all the computer and electronic archives of the film.

On September 30, the police forces seized the passports of Sanaeeha and Moqadam when the couple wanted to travel to France to continue to work on the completion of “My Favorite Cake.” Since then, a legal case has been filed against them.

Earlier in the month, Berlinale directors Carlo Chatrian und Mariëtte Rissenbeek called on the Islamic Republic of Iran to allow the two filmmakers to leave the country and attend the festival.

“The Berlinale is a festival fundamentally committed to freedom of speech, freedom of expression and freedom of the arts … and the festival is shocked and dismayed to learn that Moghaddam and Sanaeeha could be prevented from traveling to the festival to present their film and meet their audience in Berlin,” said Chatrian and Rissenbeek in a joint statement.

“We call for the Iranian authorities to return the passports and to end all restrictions” for the filmmakers, the statement went on to say.