Mohammad Rasoulof‘s The Seed of the Sacred Fig, which I saw at the Grand Lumiere a few hours ago, is a political metaphor film — an embrace of Iran’s anti-mullah, anti-sexist “Woman, Life, Freedom” movement, otherwise known as the Mahsa Amini street protests.

The historic rebellion was triggered by the 9.16.22 killing of protestor Jina Mahsa Amini while in police custody. Furious reactions went on for months.

It follows that the motivation behind the widespread Cannes cheering (and I got an earful of it following today’s 3 pm screening) is two-fold.

One, admiring the film equals supporting the movement, and nobody wants to sound blase or neutral about this, myself included. And two, supporting Rasoulof during his time of trial and nomadic uncertainty has been deemed vital, as he recently escaped from Iran in order to dodge eight years of prison time, which he was sentenced to over the content of this film.

The story is basically about the older, bearded, barrel-chested Iman (Misagh Zare), a Tehran civil servant recently promoted to inspector. He’s married to Najmeh (Soheila Golestani), whose nature is basically submissive and go-alongish, and they have two college-age daughters, the politically outspoken Rezvan (Mahsa Rostami) and the sullen and resentful Sana (Setareh Maleki).

Iman’s odious job partly involves interrogating malcontents (principally students) who’ve been arrested for protesting, and in some cases placing the lives of the accused in jeopardy.

And yet Iman isn’t initially presented as a flat-out villain — he’s a defensive-minded bureaucrat who’s mainly terrified of incurring the wrath of his hardline boss. And yet he is in lockstep with the Iranian regime and therefore a bringer of harsh authority.

The first half of this three-hour film is about the tensions stirred by the protests and particularly Iman’s daughters as they try to protect a college-age friend who’s been hurt in a street protest.

The second half — here’s where the problem kicks in — begins when Iman’s pistol, which his work colleagues have given him for protection, suddenly disappears. Who stole it and why? It seems surreal that one of Iman’s daughters might be the thief, but somebody’s clearly responsible.

Iman’s strategic reactions become more and more authoritarian and then paranoid, and we’re encouraged (along with his wife and daughters) to feel more and more alarmed by his punitive thinking, which has been exacerbated by lying.

It all comes to a head when Iman drives his family to a rural Iranian village.

Boiled down, The Seed of the Sacred Fig is two movies — the first half comprised of complex social realism, and the second half (stolen gun) driven by metaphorical symbolism and the ‘22 Jina protests. It’s really two separate films, and while their content comes from the same place the styles don’t blend.

And the 180-minute length really isn’t necessary.

Critic friendo: “Cannes critics are investing heavily in praising this film…they’re going along with this emotional wave that everyone’s feeling up and down the Croisette. I’m thinking it might win the Palme d’Or.”

HE: “It’s not good enough to win the Palme d’Or. The two halves don’t blend together. It’s two separate films. It’s serious and thoughtful, but no one’s idea of a great movie.”

Critic friendo: “That’s what bothered me. Rasoulof should have adhered to the realism of the first 90 minutes. And yet everyone’s raving like nothing’s wrong and everything’s glorious. They’re all trying to duck the flawed second half.”