Zar Amir Ebrahimi, an Iranian actress, sobbed with joy following a smear campaign on her love life after winning the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival. Ebrahimi, 41, won for her role as a journalist trying to uncover the serial deaths of prostitutes in the holy city of Mashhad, Iran in the film Holy Spider. “I’ve come a long way to be on this stage today.” It wasn’t an easy story to tell. In her victory speech on Saturday, she told the crowd: “It was humiliation, but there was cinema.”
Holy Spider, directed by Danish-Iranian Ali Abbasi, is based on the true story of a working-class guy known as the “Spider Killer” who murdered prostitutes in the early 2000s. The film was not allowed to be shot in Iran, so it was shot in Jordan instead. In her early 20s, Ebrahimi rose to fame in Iran for her supporting role in Nargess, one of the country’s longest-running soap operas.
Who is Tsar Amir?
This film is about women, it’s about their bodies, Ebrahimi told the crowd. “It’s a film full of faces, hair, hands, feet, breasts, sex, everything that’s impossible to portray in Iran.” Holy Spider received a slew of positive reviews at Cannes, with The Hollywood Reporter calling it “equal parts intriguing and scary and not necessarily for the faint of heart. Abbasi insisted that the film should not be seen as controversial as it shows part of people’s everyday lives. Abbasi added that there is ample evidence of prostitution in almost every city in Iran.
In Holy Spider, Ebrahimi’s character was also the target of evil gossip and male raids. The film implies there was minimal official pressure to apprehend the killer-turned-religious right-wing hero. Ebrahimi grew up in Tehran, where she attended theater school and made her debut film at the age of 18. She immediately gained a reputation for portraying wise and morally upright characters.
In 2006, Iranian investigators began investigating a black-market tape that allegedly showed the young soap star making love with her boyfriend. Faced with the arrest, the originator of the leak fled the country. Ebrahimi said she was the victim of an “immoral campaign” at the time. The case became so high profile that it was handled personally by Tehran’s chief prosecutor. The actress then moved to Paris, despite not speaking French, and supported herself with odd jobs.