Closed Curtain actress Maryam Moghadam and actor/co-director Kamboziya Partovi in Berlin. Photo: Brian Brooks

Mid-week at the Berlinale, two filmmaking masters debuted features that highlighted incarceration. No stranger to imprisonment, Iran's celebrated dissident filmmaker Jafar Panahi is officially banned from filmmaking and traveling for the next 20 years, but teamed up with co-director Kamboziya Partovi and a skeleton crew on Closed Curtain (Pardé), about a man and his dog on the run and taking place entirely in a single villa. Bruno Dumont's Camille Claudel, 1915 stars Juliette Binoche as the turn-of-the-century sculptress who was committed by her family to a psychiatric ward in the south of France because she believed she was being persecuted by people who envied her talents.

Closed Curtain
A remote villa along the Caspian Sea provides the setting for Panahi and Partovi's Closed Curtain. A man arrives at the outpost along with his dog, which he sneaks in in a suitcase. Islamic law considers dogs unclean and actual footage of dogs being slaughtered is unsettlingly depicted. The man shaves his head and draws dark curtains to thwart prying eyes. While the curtains serve as a prop for the story, it becomes more and more clear that they are also utterly necessary. Panahi is defying his sentence and prying eyes are never far away.

“It is difficult to work, but not being able to work is more difficult,” co-director Kamboziya Partovi, who also stars as the dog owner in the film said in Berlin. “Not being able to work at the height of your career is depressing and I think the film shows this.”

This is not the first time Jafar Panahi has defied the regime. His documentary self-portrait This Is Not A Film debuted at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, showing the director's house arrest at his home in Tehran. Though Panahi could not attend the premiere of Closed Curtain in Berlin, his image nevertheless made an appearance in the simple form of a cut out. Following the early morning screening, crowds shuffled passed a cardboard version of Panahi, which had the words “I should be here” written in English and German.

Actress Maryam Moghadam joined Partovi for the post-screening discussion with journalists. In the film she plays a young girl who interrupts the man and dog's isolation when she and her friend—their relationship is never quite clear—enter the villa in order to flee police after they're caught partying. They hide and voices of police are heard on the other side of the villa's walls.

Her mate heads out to find help, and the man is frantic that the woman leave as soon as possible. Then another surprise: Jafar Panahi appears, which solicited low sounding yet audible gasps in the audience. Are the man and woman ghosts of Panahi's reality?

In the post-screening discussion, questions centered on what might happen back home now that the film has been made. There is virtually no possibility it will hit screens in Iran, but even abroad, authorities are certain to react. Partovi was measured in his responses: “There's nothing we can foresee. We don't know what the future has for us. … While developing the script, we didn't anticipate something. We just wanted the project to be the four of us.”

Director Bruno Dumont and actors Juliette Binoche and Jean-Luc Vincent at a press conference for Camille Claudel, 1915. Photo: Brian Brooks

Camille Claudel
Facing no such official restrictions, French actress Juliette Binoche and French director Bruno Dumont found their motivation in the story of the troubled artist Camille Claudel. After being spurned by her famous lover and fellow artist Auguste Rodin, Claudel's family send her to a psychiatric clinic because she is obsessed with the idea she's being persecuted. Shot mostly behind the thick walls of the clinic, the film chronicles her vigil to be liberated. She dreams of finding understanding and acceptance as an artist, while she awaits a visit from her beloved (and also famous) brother, the writer Paul Claudel. Their correspondence while Camille is incarcerated inspired the film.

“I was touched that [Juliette Binoche] called me, so I thought for a long time about what we could do. I remembered she is also a painter, so I took the similarities between her and Camille and created the character,” said Dumont. “Camille was very famous when she was locked up, so Juliette's fame plays off that.”

Binoche immersed herself in Claudel's life by reading her letters; Dumont did not want to give her the script prematurely. “I was only given her letters and I got lost in her and created that character. Everything she felt, I felt,” said Binoche. “I got overcome sometimes. It was hard to bear, but at times there's a transformation.  There was a lightness about her despite all her sufferings.”

Dumont also dove into Claudel's letters. Throughout her correspondence, the artist describes the screams and outbursts of her fellow inmates, many of whom had complicated mental disturbances. “I tried to reconstitute the facts of her existence there and found psychiatrists who'd help me recreate this,” said Dumont, who cast real patients in the film. “I took their disorders and let them be who they are in order to show what Camille felt.”

The Cold Lands director Tom Gilroy with actor Peter Scanavino and Michael Stipe at a Cinereach party for the film. Photo: Brian Brooks

The Cold Lands
Former R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe joined his friend, filmmaker Tom Gilroy (right) for the world premiere of The Cold Lands, which screened in the festival's Generations section. Made with support from film organization Cinereach, which hosted a party for the film about a boy and his mother in a secluded wooden house in a forest. Also pictured is actor Peter Scanavino (middle) who stars in the film.