Between 2000 and 2001, Saeed Hanaei killed 16 women in the Iranian city of Mashhad. They were all prostitutes that he smothered in his house. Women who were looking for money to buy drugs and ended up prostituting themselves in a place where women can only be selfless wives. The case shocked the country, but above all it gained dimension when he was discovered and argued that his sexist crimes were a divine mission to clean the streets of his country. An event that was on the front pages of the newspapers and in the media for months and that caused Hanaei, instead of being considered a murderer of women, to be promoted as a national hero. It was the sign that machismo ran through the veins of a corrupt country in which women were second class beings, that they could be killed for the way they dress or for wearing makeup or without a veil.
That event is the narrative excuse for Holy Spider, the new and highly anticipated film by Ali Abbasi, an Iranian director based in Sweden. a very powerful thriller that in its first part it would delight David Fincher and that in his second turn towards a more classic judicial procedure. In both, gender is the excuse to show a completely rotten country. Sexist, unequal, unfair, where many women marry as children, have children when young and end up drugged and as prostitutes before reaching 30.
Abbasi has jumped into the Official Selection at Cannes with his new film in which he dares to look at his native country for the first time. He does it with a film unthinkable for an Iranian filmmaker. For its explicitness and for the forcefulness of her message, which is not only towards violence against women but towards a society in which all institutions smell of corruption and in which religion has clouded everything. Abbasi portrays a dirty, decadent city, full of dark alleys and where inequality leaves victims on every corner.
Abbasi, who surprised everyone with the excellent Border, performs a superb exercise in tension in its first half, with a great handling of suspense and a risky bet in its way of showing the murders, focusing on the suffocated faces of the victims. The second half of it reinforces the political message of the film, but it is more routine, although the director never loses interest, something that is also helped by the incredible performance of Zar Amir-Ebrahimi as the journalist who investigates the case. to obsessive limits.
The filmmaker was very critical of Iranian cinema and the situation of censorship experienced by artists that forces them to make excessively metaphorical and cryptic cinema at the press conference at the Cannes Film Festival: “I have a lot of respect for Iranian cinema, but cinematographically I don't I feel like Iranian cinema is my home, it's all fucking metaphorical. A flower in the wind represents… I don't know. Movies have to punch you in the face, they're not fucking flowers. Cinema has no country, borders or genre, someone like Lynch or Luis Buñuel are more inspiration for me, or the great Italian cinema. For the last 50 years we have been presenting a parallel reality in Iranian cinema. Women never take off their clothes. They sleep with five meters of cloth around their heads. They never have sex. They never fart... That's not an inspiration to me."
Holy Spider could not be shot in Iran, but Ali Abbasi tried to get permission to do so. “I went to the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, had a cup of tea with them, and showed them the script, minus a few scenes. But I was ready to commit because that would allow me to get closer to the reality that I wanted to portray. A year later, the authorities were still stuck, ”said the director who finally did not get permission and went to shoot the film in Jordan.
Many believe that Holy Spider will bring controversy, especially in Iran, but Abbasi does not understand where people can find the problem. “For me there is no controversy with the film. There is clear evidence that people in Iran have sex. There is evidence that there is prostitution in Iran, as in all the big cities in the world”, he assured to clarify that he did not want to criticize only violence against women, but rather the whole of society, especially Iranian society, which allows there is so much poverty while favoring the great fortunes.
“The women who were killed were all living in poverty. They got married when they were 14 years old. They had two children when they were 23. This is not a movie against the Iranian government. It is not anti anyone. I don't think Roman Polanski was making a movie against Los Angeles in Chinatown. But the real fact is that the murderer was a very religious man and that the murders were taking place in a holy city, ”he settled on a film that many see in a list of winners that is beginning to have too many names in the pools.