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Emad Aleebrahim Dehkordi’s story of brotherly bonds and criminal excess “A Tale of Shemroon” took home top honors at the Marrakech Film Festival on Saturday, closing out a 19th edition that saw a robust and welcome return to in-person events after two year’s of pandemic-forced delays.

Dehkordi’s feature debut follows a pair of brothers pulled deeper into the drug trade as they supply any number of illegal thrills to Tehran’s wealthy and hard-partying youths. While remaining a family drama above all, the Marrakech winner certainly evokes the simmering ennui felt by a young generation of Iranians and now boiling over into protest and rage on the real streets of Tehran.

Visibly moved, director Emad Aleebrahim Dehkordi’s collected his Etoile d’Or by dedicating the prize to “all the Iranians fighting for their freedoms, to those who are faced with death sentences. This award is for the women and youth of Iran.”

A Tale of Shemroon Indie Sales

Cristèle Alves Meira’s “Alma Viva” and Maryam Touzani’s “The Blue Caftan” split the Jury Prize, essentially tying for second place. Both films will represent their respective countries as Portugal and Morocco’s International Feature Film Oscar submissions, and both premiered at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year.

“Thunder,” filmmaker Carmen Jaquier’s story of female emancipation set against the suffocating religious climate of turn of the last century Switzerland, won the directing prize, while acting honors went to Choi Seung-Yoon for “Riceboy Sleeps” and Arswendy Bening Swara for “Autobiography,” adding to an impressive overall haul for Makbul Mubarak’s Indonesian thriller and Anthony Shim’s Canadian immigration drama, which collectively have won prizes in Venice, Toronto, Taipei, and Vancouver.

Saturday’s closing ceremony kicked off with a tribute to Tilda Swinton, who had served as jury president at the previous edition of the Marrakech Festival, and who evinced genuine shock when her daughter, actress Honor Swinton Byrne, made a surprise appearance to deliver the prize.

After “Triangle of Sadness” director Ruben Ostlund introduced Swinton as “the David Bowie of cinema” in reference to her otherworldly and chameleon-like qualities, the festival honoree displayed a side of herself all too rarely seen on screen, ever so slightly losing her cool mien as her jaw fell open and eyes welled with shock and joy once her daughter strode onstage. 

This year’s jury was led by Paolo Sorrentino, and included actors Vanessa Kirby, Diane Kruger, and Tahar Rahim, alongside filmmakers Nadine Labaki, Laïla Marrakchi, and Justin Kurzel. Oscar Isaac and Susanne Bier were also slated to take part, but personal reasons kept both from attending.

Still, this 19th edition was hardly lacking in attendees. The festival welcomed just under 20,000 accredited guests — nearly doubling the record from the 18th edition — and a whopping 150,000 overall viewers over the course of 124 screenings in four locations, including free nightly screenings in Marrakech’s iconic Jemaa el Fna square. A boisterous public showing of “Minions: The Rise of Gru” introduced by local megastar Gad Elmaleh (who has provided the French voice of Gru throughout the franchise) no doubt contributed to such a substantial audience number. At Friday night’s screening, the historic square filled up as far as the eye could see with locals who came out en masse to fête the Moroccan-born comedian.

Gad Elmaleh at Jemaa el Fna FIFM 2022