Cannes Report Day 7: ‘Holy Spider’ Director Ali Abbasi Explains Iranian Cinema’s ‘Parallel Reality’

Plus, Viola Davis gives a moving speech at the Women in Motion event

"Holy Spider" Press Coference Ali Abbasi
Getty Images

Ali Abbasi’s “Holy Spider” has earned early buzz from critics in Cannes as a potential winner of the Palme d’Or, but it’s no doubt shocked audiences for its provocative content, graphic violence and nudity.

The Swedish-Iranian Abbasi defended his film in Monday’s press conference by arguing that there’s “nothing controversial” about his film at all, and in fact the Iranian cinema that audiences in Iran and around the world have grown accustomed to seeing has actually presented a “parallel reality.”

“In the movies we have been presenting a parallel reality of Iran in the last 50 years,” he said at Cannes. “In this parallel reality, women never take their clothes off. They never take their f—ing clothes off. They sleep with five meters of cloth around their heads. They never have sex. They never fart… that is not an inspiration, really. It shouldn’t be.”

Abbasi was asked whether “Holy Spider” was in some ways inspired by Iranian cinema, and though he says he has respect for filmmakers from the region, he’s hardly an expert and stylistically doesn’t “feel at home” in the more “metaphoric” Iranian style of recent decades. “To me a movie is a slap in the face, it’s not a f—ing flower bouquet. I think the kind of filmmaking that I’m interested in, it’s more about showing stuff than hiding stuff,” he said.

Rather, Abbasi said some of his biggest inspirations were David Lynch, Luis Bunuel and Italian auteurs rather than Iranian directors, and he’s more inspired by the actual culture of the country than in the films that the country puts out. Abbasi called “Holy Spider” an example of “Persian Noir,” and the film is inspired by the true story of a 2001 serial killer and the journalist who worked to investigate him. But the movie turns the thriller on its head by having the real terror of the movie coming from the misogynistic authorities that won’t lift a finger.

“I’m not a big fan of serial killers. Not a fan of serial killer movies and not interested in solving crimes. The fact that the killings happened; I was following them like anyone else. Where it became something else and became interesting for me, was when a certain segment in Iranian society, and press and authority started talking about this guy as some sort of selfless hero that had been sacrificing himself to the good of his society,” Abbasi said.

Viola Davis Women in Motion Cannes
Viola Davis attends the annual Kering “Women in Motion” Awards Photocall at Place de la Castre in Cannes, France. (Photo by Joe Maher/Getty Images)

Viola Davis Wants ‘My Ceiling to Be Other People’s Floor’ at Women in Motion Event

Viola Davis on Sunday night accepted the 2022 Women in Motion Award at Cannes in what is her first time at the film festival, and the actress spoke at a dinner event that attracted stars like Letitia Wright, Isabelle Huppert, Riz Ahmed and many more. “I want my ceiling to be other people’s floor,” Davis said at the event. “I don’t want to leave something for people, I want to leave something in people.”

Davis talked about growing up as a woman in color and about being inspired herself by actresses like Cecily Tyson and how she too wants to elevate the work of other underrepresented women like her.

“As a little chocolate girl that grew up in Central Falls, Rhode Island, in abject poverty, with a certain level of poverty, I always wanted my life to matter. I wanted to leave this earth with a big fat hole in it and I felt the way to do that was to become an actress, but now that I’ve progressed in my career, what I’ve realized is that I want to elevate storytelling for people of color,” Davis said (via Forbes). “I know we are human beings and that we are very complicated, and the power of art is that it knows no color. Because human beings, when they sit and watch art they want to feel less alone. And I want to play a part in making them feel that way.”

Sony Pictures Classics Acquires Mia Hansen-Løve’s ‘One Fine Morning’

Sony Pictures Classics on Monday acquired the North American rights to “One Fine Morning,” the latest film from French director Mia Hansen-Løve that stars Léa Seydoux. The film has received early rave reviews and made its premiere in the Director’s Fortnight section of Cannes.

The new film follows Sandra (Seydoux), a young mother who raises her daughter alone and pays regular visits to her sick father. While she and her family fight tooth and nail to get him the care he requires, Sandra reconnects with Clément, a friend she hasn’t seen in a while. Although he is in a relationship, the two begin a passionate affair. Pascal Greggory and Melvil Poupaud also star in the film.

Sony Pictures Classics also acquired Latin America and Middle East rights, and so far “One Fine Morning” has sold in 50 territories.

Read more here.

Jerry Lee Lewis Trouble in Mind
“Jerry Lee Lewis: Trouble in Mind” (A24)

Reviews From Day 7

Holy Spider,” dir. Ali Abbasi (Main Competition)

“To follow up his Un Certain Regard-winning “Border,” the Iran-born Denmark-based director has burrowed into a chilling bit of true-crime from his native country, reimagining the 2001 case of a religious fanatic who slaughtered 16 young women and using that premise to explore systemic misogyny writ large. He does so by turning the murder thriller upside down, telling a story where the killer’s identify is never in doubt and his intentions are always crystal clear, and where the greatest source of tension comes from wondering whether anyone in power will lift a finger to stop him.” — Ben Croll

Forever Young,” dir. Valeria Bruni Tedeschi (Main Competition)

“Valeria Bruni Tedeschi’s “Forever Young” is a fictionalized account of her time at Les Amandiers, a prestigious acting school in Nanterre on the outskirts of Paris. As well as drawing on her own memories of student-dom in the mid-1980s, she and her co-writers, Noémie Nvovsky and Agnes De Sacy, interviewed other people who studied alongside her, and so their tragedy-tinged comedy drama, which is in Competition at Cannes, should have all the unruly specificity of real life.

“Unfortunately, it doesn’t. It’s always watchable, and it has a distinctively grainy, intimate look, but the vague, generic characters and incidents are the kind of thing you might scribble on the back of an envelope without having done any research at all. If you’ve ever seen a film about performing arts students – the sort of people who are going to live forever and who are going to learn how to fly (high) – then you’ll have seen it all before.” — Nicholas Barber

Jerry Lee Lewis: Trouble in Mind,” dir. Ethan Coen (Out of Competition)

Yes, Jerry Lee Lewis is a trip. And yes, the best word for “Jerry Lee Lewis: Trouble in Mind” is fun, because it’s impossible to watch The Killer pump those keys without a big grin. The opening scene is enough to show you Coen’s priorities: It’s a clip from “The Ed Sullivan Show” of Lewis performing the Mickey Newbury country lament “She Even Woke Me Up to Say Goodbye,” and it’s nothing like the full-on rock ‘n’ roll assaults that Lewis is best known for. But even this relatively quiet performance from 1970 is a delicious treat – because in the smallest of gestures, the hint of a smirk, the raised hand before it comes down on the piano, Lewis displays a casual virtuosity that lets you see the wild man he still could be if he felt like it.

“Trouble in Mind” is full of gems, and to Coen’s credit, he lets many of the performances play out at full length; this isn’t a doc that keeps cutting away from the songs so that we can hear people talk about the songs. There is a lot of interview footage with Lewis from over the years, but it’s assembled playfully: He might start a story in a clip from the ’50s and finish it in the ’70s, with a couple of detours to other decades along the way.” — Steve Pond