Berlin win for Panahi seen as victory for free speech

The dissident director Jafar Panahi plays a taxi driver in his Golden Bear winning Taxi
The dissident director Jafar Panahi plays a taxi driver in his Golden Bear winning Taxi

The top award at the Berlin Film Festival, the Golden Bear for the best film, has gone to the dissident Iranian director Jafar Panahi, who’s officially banned from making films and leaving his country.

His winning film, Taxi, ostensibly features conversations between a Tehran taxi driver and his passengers, but is in essence a criticism of censorship. The film itself was smuggled out of Iran, where Panahi has been banned from working since he tried to make a documentary about the dispute presidential election in 2009.

The president of the festival’s jury, the Hollywood director Darren Aronofsky, said, “Instead of allowing his spirit to be crushed and giving up, instead of allowing himself to be filled with anger and frustration, Jafar Panahi created a love letter to cinema.”

Germany’s foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier described the jury’s decision as “an important symbol for artistic freedom.”

Panahi’s niece, Hana Saeidi, who appears in the film, collected the trophy on his behalf. His most recent movie, 2013’s Closed Curtain, drew protests from the Iranian government when it won Berlin’s Silver Bear for best screenplay.

The film industry publication Variety described Taxi, in which Panahi uses a dash-board mounted camera to film himself, as a “terrific road movie” offering “a provocative discussion of Iranian social mores and the art of cinematic storytelling”.

The German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung said the “witty and ingenious” film deserved the Golden Bear not simply for its political message but also on its artistic merits.

The other winners at the 2015 Berlin Film Festival include:

  • Silver Bear for Best Direction – shared between Poland’s Malgorzata Szumowska for Body and Romania’s Radu Jude for Aferim!
  • Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize – The Club, by Chile’s Pablo Larraín
  • Silver Bear for Best Actor – Tom Courtenay, 45 Years
  • Silver Bear for Best Actress – Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years
  • Silver Bear for Best Screenplay – The Pearl Button, a documentary by Chile’s Patricio Guzmán
  • Silver Bear for Cinematography – shared between Sturla Brandth Grøvlen for Victoria and Russia’s Under Electric Clouds, shot by Evgeniy Privin and Sergey Mikhalchuk