Jafar Panahi was notable by his absence at last week’s Cannes film festival. Abbas Kiarostami praised him at the press conference; Juliette Binoche brandished his name at the closing night ceremony and a place was reserved in his honour on the Palme d’Or jury. What Panahi made of all this was anyone’s guess. Chances are he never even knew about it. The Iranian film-maker was arrested back in March and has spent the past three months as a political prisoner. Last night he was at last allowed out of Tehran’s Evin prison on bail of £140,000.
“His fault is to be an artist, to be independent,” claimed Binoche, which sounds about right. Panahi has made some beautiful films in his time, which meets the first criterion. But he is also a vocal supporter of the opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, which accounts for the second. Sources suggest he was dragged from his home amid rumours that he was planning a film about last June’s disputed presidential elections. For his supporters and his enemies alike, Panahi has become the closest thing world cinema has to a bona fide revolutionary, the dangerous firebrand who will not be silenced. All of which is a far cry from the man I first met nearly 15 years ago.