Farhadi will start the race for the festival’s coveted Palme d’Or prize late Tuesday when he premieres his psychological thriller “Everybody Knows” starring Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem.
Panahi is also in the running for his new feature, “Three Faces”, but has been barred from travelling by the Iranian authorities.
Pleas by US director Oliver Stone and other supporters to lift the constraints on Panahi have fallen on deaf ears in Tehran.
“Of course, you have to keep trying (to get him to come). I think we must try, we must do what we can to express our support so that he comes,” Farhadi told AFP.
“But we must not forget that what is essential for him and for any filmmaker is that his film be seen. That’s the most important thing.”
Panahi was banned from making films and leaving the country after supporting mass protests in 2009 and making a series of films that critiqued the state of modern Iran.
That has not stopped him from working in secret in the country and his 2015 picture “Taxi” won the Golden Bear at the Berlin film festival to the consternation of his conservative critics back home.
“Three Faces” is one of 21 films vying for the Palme d’Or, to be awarded on May 19.
Cannes has this year also invited Russia’s Kirill Serebrennikov, under house arrest in Moscow on embezzlement charges his allies claim are political, with little sign he’ll be able to attend.
– ‘Out of comfort zone’ –
Farhadi said he was “not very optimistic” for a surprise reprieve for Cannes “because for the moment there has been no sign of detente despite the support expressed by his colleagues.”
“But what I’m happy about is that despite the restrictions he’s had and the situation he’s been in for years, he hasn’t let himself feel down, he hasn’t become isolated, depressed,” he said.
“He’s continued to work on what he’s interested in, and his films are recognised. That in itself is very important.”
Farhadi is no stranger to Cannes. Two of his films — “The Past” (2013) and “The Salesman” (2016)– have clinched awards at the glitzy French Riviera event.
The latter picture and his international hit “A Separation” both scooped Academy Awards for best foreign film.
Farhadi shot “Everybody Knows” entirely in Spain, in Spanish — a language he does not speak — while “The Past” was set in Paris and filmed largely in French. But he said he prefers working in Iran.
“For me, working in my country is simpler, it’s a society I know better, even if it has its own restrictions, its own complications, it’s still my culture, my language,” he said.
“Working abroad is a challenge, but it’s also interesting. It’s important for me to get out of my comfort zone, to not just do things that I know I can do and that will be successful. I’d rather take risks.”