Persian cats join Chinese gays as Cannes gets political

By AFP

June 18, 2010 Updated May 14, 2009 at 2:11 PM EDT

A torrid gay sex movie from China and a blistering denunciation of film and music censorship in Iran brought world politics centre-stage at the Cannes film festival on Thursday.

Both movies were shot in secret and brought to France without official home country approval and both directors wasted no words in slamming their countries' respective censors.

"I hope to be the last Chinese director ever to be banned," China's award-winning Lou Ye told AFP in an interview.

And Iran's Bahman Gohbadi, screening his "No One Knows About Persian Cats," said he might not go back home after the festival because even if he is not offically banned he is not allowed to shoot.

"If I go back how can I make a movie? I'm sure they won't give me permission to film," he said in a separate interview.

With controversy no stranger to Cannes, both movies were scheduled by organisers to screen on the first high-profile day of the race to scoop the festival's Palme d'Or award.

"Cannes," said festival director Thierry Fremaux, "aims to unveil world cinema as well as unveil what is happening across the world around us."

Lou is among some of the world's 20 hottest directors competing for the top prize from the globe's leading movie showcase, to be awarded May 24.

His "Spring Fever" is a two-hour tale of passion and seduction in twosomes and threesomes with lengthy graphic scenes of gay sex shot in just two months in Nanjing city with a hand-held camera, defying a ban on film-making.

"We were psychologically prepared to be stopped during the filming, but that never happened, and today here we are with the film and the cast, which after all is a good thing," he said.

The 44-year-old director is halfway through a five-year ban on film-making imposed by censors in 2006 after bringing his previous movie "Summer Palace" -- another steamy love tale set around the taboo subject of the 1989 pro-democracy Tiananmen protests -- to Cannes in 2006 without official approval.

Ghobadi's "No One Knows About Persian Cats" was selected by festival organisers as the opening film of its parallel section spotlighting fresh talent, "Un Certain Regard."

Ghobadi, romantically linked to just-released US journalist Roxana Saberi, also filmed without permission in Tehran, was arrested twice and had to lie about the film, saying he was shooting a documentary on drugs.

His movie is a no-holds-barred denunciation of screen and music censorship in Iran shot in secret in just 17 days with a largely non-professional cast on a shoestring. It was warmly received by critics at a preview screening.

Shot in dingy cellars, rooftop sheds and even in a country cow-barn, it unveils the existence of a vibrant Tehran underground music scene ranging from indie rock to Persian rap to heavy metal -- with rare images of daily urban life in the backdrop.

Ghobadi, director of auteur award-winners such as "Turtles Can Fly" and "A Time for Drunken Horses," said he had lived in fear of police during the shooting of the film.

"If I go back now they know how I did this, they will follow me."

Adding to the strong political undertone of Day Two at Cannes was a searing documentary about the Rwanda genocide shot over a decade in a lush hillside corner of the country.

"My Neighbor My Killer," screened out of competition 15 years after the 1994 genocide of 800,000 people, looks at whether victims and perpetrators of a mass atrocity can ever learn to live together again.

The 12-day film showcase lifted off Wednesday with a gala opening ceremony that saw goofy 3D spectacles foisted on tuxedo-clad celebrities as Hollywood's Disney-Pixar studios premiered cartoon comedy "Up."

From "Brokeback Mountain" Oscar-winning director Ang Lee, to veteran New Wave icon Alain Resnais, at a ripe 86 back behind a camera, the world's grandest film-makers are competing to take home the coveted gong here.

Among them are US director Quentin Tarantino, Spain's Pedro Almodovar, Palestinian Elia Suleiman, Park Chan-Wook of South Korea and Denmark's Lars Von Trier.

Competition is expected to be specially stiff this year with contenders including four previous Palme winners -- Tarantino, Von Trier, Jane Campion, and Ken Loach.




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