The female cast and crew of the new film by Iranian director Jafar Panahi, who is banned from leaving the country, said Sunday he was crushed he could not attend the Cannes premiere but that his "most ardent hope" was to show the movie at home.
His "Three Faces", one of 21 movies vying for the Palme d'Or top prize, drew a standing ovation at the world's top film festival late Saturday, but Panahi's absence was sorely felt with a seat left symbolically empty for the dissident director.
"He said several times he was prepared not to present his film in Cannes if he could show it in Iran. The film isn't particularly political as you saw -- it could take place anywhere else in the world -- so we're still hopeful," his editor Mastaneh Mohajer told reporters.
"It's his most ardent hope he'll be able to show his film in Iran," she said.
- 'All his films are feminist' -
The meditative road movie tells the story of the intertwined fates of three Iranian women from different generations, with Panahi playing a co-starring role.
In the opening scene a girl makes a smartphone video of her own faked suicide to draw Panahi's actress friend Behnaz Jafari to her village from Tehran after her conservative family refused to allow her to attend art school.
"Jafar Pahahi was always really ahead of the times in terms of empowering women," Mohajer said. "All his films focus on feminist issues."
It is the second Iranian feature in competition alongside Asghar Farhadi's "Everybody Knows" starring Spanish star couple Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem.
Panahi, 57, was outlawed from making movies and leaving the country after supporting mass protests in 2009 and making a series of films that critiqued the state of modern Iran.
Pleas by Oscar-winning US director Oliver Stone and other supporters to let Panahi travel to Cannes fell on deaf ears in Tehran ahead of the premiere.
He has frequently found ways of working around the ban, famously smuggling his 2011 documentary "This is Not a Film" out of the country in a flash drive hidden in a cake to screen it in Cannes.
His 2015 picture "Taxi" won the Golden Bear at the Berlin film festival to the consternation of his conservative critics back home.
- 'Police everywhere' -
"Three Faces" lead actress Jafari, who plays a version of herself in the film, said the entire crew had to be careful while working in a rural region of the country's northwest.
"We were very worried all the time. We were expecting a shock to come out of the blue," she said.
"There were police everywhere in the village where we shot. When they saw me they recognised me but Mr Panahi stayed in his car. I don't want to say that he hid himself but he didn't want to be seen so he wouldn't have any problems."
Panahi is one of two Palme d'Or contenders to be barred from attending Cannes this year.
Russia's Kirill Serebrennikov missed Thursday's premiere of his much-praised film "Leto" after being placed under house arrest in Moscow on embezzlement charges his allies claim are political.
Also premiering Saturday was feminist war movie "Girls of the Sun" starring acclaimed Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani, who sparked controversy a decade ago with topless images and has not worked in her home country since she appeared in Farhadi's 2009 film "About Elly".
Farhadi said last week that attending his own Cannes premiere while Panahi was barred was "something I have difficulty living with".