Berlinale 2024 | ‘My Favourite Cake’ Iranian directors say ‘forbidden’ to join Berlin premiere

In an emotional display of solidarity and restraint, the Berlin Film Festival was marked by the notable absence of Iranian directors Maryam Moghaddam and Behtash Sanaeeha. Their film “My Favourite Cake”, an insightful exploration of love and liberation, remained without its creators at its premiere this Friday due to a travel ban from Iranian authorities.

The directors, who were slated to present their film—a tale of a late-in-life romance defying societal morality rules—were instead represented by vacant chairs, a sobering reminder of the constraints they faced. “We are forbidden from joining you and watching a movie on the silver screen that is about love, about life, and also about freedom, a lost treasure in our country,” they expressed through a statement. Their heartfelt message was delivered to the press by lead actor Lily Farhadpour, who managed to attend the conference alongside her co-star Esmail Mehrabi.

Though absent, their presence was felt through their cinematic work. Farhadpour, taking on the role of Mahin, a 70-year-old woman from Tehran, challenged the city’s norms on screen by partaking in acts such as drinking wine, dancing, and holding hands with her screen partner Mehrabi as Esmail, illustrating a quiet rebellion within the narrative confines of a 97-minute film.

Highlighting the conflict between artistic expression and stringent laws, the directors penned their perspective, “We have come to believe that it is no longer possible to tell the story of an Iranian woman while obeying strict laws such as the mandatory hijab.”

Their previous work, “Ballad of a White Cow,” too had made its way to Berlin in 2021. However, this time the filmmakers were restricted from partaking in the artistic dialog their work would incite. The festival’s organizers had publicly called on February 1st for a reversal of the directors’ travel ban, but to no avail. Iranian officials remained unreachable for comment on the issue, as the day coincided with the weekend in Iran. Media reports hinted at the existence of travel bans based on unspecified grounds.

Farhadpour, also recognized for her writing and journalism, conveyed that “My Favourite Cake” was shot before the protests erupted in Iran, following the death of a young Iranian Kurdish woman in the custody of the country’s morality police in September 2022. “All of this is somehow connected and still we made the decision to film the way we did before the protests,” she elucidated. Drawn to the film’s raw and unfiltered portrayal of Iranian women, Farhadpour touched upon the dissonance in the representation of women’s lives in Iranian cinema dictated by the necessity of conforming to the mandatory hijab.

On the day of the movie screening, actors Farhadpour and Mehrabi stood before the audience and the press, holding a picture of the hindered directors. Their visages a poignant representation of their absent colleagues whose voices were silenced yet echoed through the halls of the film festival.

The Berlinale stood as a testimony to the struggles faced by artists around the world vying for honest expression within their works. “My Favourite Cake”, despite its creators’ physical absence, became a compelling piece that spoke volumes about love’s timeless rebellion against repression, and freedom’s enduring fight against silent compulsion.

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