PARIS, May 23 — Iranian director Ali Abbasi premiered Holy Spider at the Cannes Film Festival yesterday, the tale of a serial killer in the holy city Mashhad — based on a true story — dubbing the genre “Persian noir”.

“This is a film noir. This is a Persian noir,” Abbasi told Reuters.

The movie takes viewers to the outskirts of the Iranian city, where serial killer Saeed Hanaei, played by Mehdi Bajestani, hunts down destitute prostitutes in what he sees as a cleansing mission.

Pursuing him, investigative journalist Rahimi, played by Zar Amir Ebrahimi, suspects local corruption is hampering his arrest.

“We want to build a universe, a universe which is dark, which has an underbelly, which has vice, which has trouble, which has all sorts of conflicts ongoing,” said Abbasi. “Is that an accurate portrait of Iran?”

The movie shows a society that is unforgiving to those who deviate from its religious rules. When the real life “spider killer” was caught in 2001, he found support for his argument that he was stamping out what he called moral corruption, although he was convicted and executed the following year.

“I’m talking about a real case — we didn’t know... would he be convicted? Would he be punished?” said Abbasi.

The movie, distributed by Metropolitan Filmexport, is one of 21 films vying for the festival’s top prize, the Palme d’Or. Abbasi won the Cannes prize in the “Un Certain Regard”, category in 2018 with Border.

Describing the contradictory nature of Iranian society, where women may be highly trained doctors and engineers but are also subject to tight controls over what they wear and how they look in public, the director said he sought to expose these tensions.

“This picture is not one sided. There is reason to hope. There’s also reason to fear.” — Reuters