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Iran protests Berlin film award for banned Jafar Panahi

Jury member Shirin Neshat stands next to the picture of director Jafar Panahi before presenting his co-director Kamboziya Partovi with a Sil
Jury member Shirin Neshat stands next to the picture of director Jafar Panahi before presenting his co-director Kamboziya Partovi with a Sil

By Marcus George

DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran has complained to the organizers of the Berlin film festival for giving Iranian director Jafar Panahi an award for an allegorical movie made in defiance of a 20-year state ban.

Panahi shared the best script prize at Berlin on Saturday for "Closed Curtain" with co-director Kamboziya Partovi for a film made in secret, which mirrors aspects of Panahi's life under house arrest in the Islamic Republic.

"We have protested to the Berlin film festival. Its officials should amend their behavior because in cultural and cinematic exchange, this is not correct," said Javad Shamaqdari, the head of Iran's national cinema organization, Iran's student news agency (ISNA) reported on Monday.

The movie follows the story of two people on the run from state security and is considered by critics to be a multi-layered portrayal of how restrictions on the filmmaker's work and movement have brought on depression and even thoughts of suicide.

Iran banned Panahi from making films for 20 years in 2010 and sentenced him to six years in prison on charges of "propaganda against the state" following the country's 2009 disputed presidential election.

While he remains at home under house arrest, Panahi has previously described himself as a victim of injustice and an Amnesty International statement published at the time of his conviction said he may be forced to report to prison at any time.

"Everyone knows that a license is needed to make films in our country and send them abroad but there are a small number who make films and send them out without a license. This is an offense ... but so far the Islamic Republic has been patient with such behavior," Shamaqdari said without mentioning Panahi or the film by name, ISNA reported.

A celebrated filmmaker in the West for his portrayals of issues such as women's rights and support for political opposition, Panahi was not able to attend the Berlin festival.

At a news conference in Berlin last week, Partovi avoided discussing the sensitivities around the film, simply saying that "nothing had happened until now" but that he did not know what the future held.

"Closed Curtain" is the second film Panahi has made in defiance of the ban, after 2011's "This is not a Film". It is unclear whether he will face prosecution for breaking the ban.

"Closed Curtain" is set in an empty villa in Iran, presumably beside the Caspian Sea.

A man, played by Partovi, arrives with his dog, and proceeds to draw the curtains and black out the windows, sealing himself off from the world outside and preventing the authorities - real and imagined - from seeing what is happening.

When the dog accidentally switches on the television, we see footage of stray dogs being rounded up and killed, explaining why he had to be smuggled in inside a bag and kept indoors.

A young man and woman, on the run from the police, burst in and the woman stays, but her existence and that of the man becomes unclear as viewers must decide if they are fictional characters in Panahi's script or actual people.

The layers of reality multiply as Panahi himself arrives, and posters advertising some of his past movies are revealed beneath sheets before being covered up again.

In the allegory of Panahi's life under house arrest and inability to work freely, we see him walking into the sea at one point, a reference to taking his own life.

"He was not constantly thinking about suicide, no, because then he wouldn't have been able to make the film," Partovi told reporters in Berlin last week. "But if I imagine myself unable to work and just sitting at home, then I am sure I would start to think about suicide."

(Reporting By Marcus George, editing by Paul Casciato)

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