It was a popular win for one of the most critically lauded films in the strand, traditionally reserved for art films of lower profile or more specialist appeal than those contending in the festival's premier Competition.
Rasoulof's sixth feature, 'Lerd' centers on a politically liberal goldfish farmer battling corporate oppression in northern Iran. Variety critic Alissa Simon praised the film as a "tense, enraging drama about corruption and injustice".
The award was presented by this year's Un Certain Regard jury president Uma Thurman, heading a panel that also included filmmakers Joachim Lafosse and Mohamed Diab, actor Reda Kateb and Karlovy Vary festival director Karel Och.
For Rasoulof, the third time in Un Certain Regard proved the charm: He previously competed there with 2011's 'Au revoir' and 2013's 'Manuscripts Don't Burn', winning Best Director for the former.
That prize this year went to Taylor Sheridan, the Oscar-nominated American screenwriter of 'Hell or High Water', for his sophomore directorial effort 'Wind River'. A taut murder mystery set on the eponymous Native American reservation in Wyoming, starring Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen, the film premiered in January at the Sundance Film Festival, and will be released Stateside in August through The Weinstein Company.
Accepting the award from the jury in Sheridan's absence, Harvey Weinstein made the most rousing speech of the ceremony, first reading a statement from the director paying tribute to the Arapaho and Shoshone tribespeople, before making his own protest against recently proposed cuts to Native American healthcare and housing in the Trump budget.
Sheridan's statement, in part, read: "The Tribal Councils of the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone Nations not only allowed me to tell this story, but embraced me and lent me their assistance in every way asked. It is a great shame of my nation the manner it has treated the original inhabitants of North America. Sadly, my government continues that shame through an insidious mixture of apathy and exploitation. There is nothing I can do to change the issues afflicting Indian Country, but what we can all do as artists — and must do — is scream about them with fists clenched. What we can do is make sure these issues aren't ignored. Then the people who can effect change will be forced to."
Weinstein himself went on to thank the jury for highlighting the matter through honoring the film. "We'll light the fuse and we'll win the war," he said, adding, "This spotlight that you've put on this issue will change things."
Though Un Certain Regard is traditionally dominated by lesser-known filmmakers on the rise, two awards were presented to directors who have previously been in competition. Mexican provocateur Michel Franco took the Jury Prize for 'April's Daughter', a dark drama of teenage pregnancy and mother-daughter relations. It's the third time he's taken a prize at the festival: He won Un Certain Regard outright in 2012 with 'After Lucia', before moving up to Competition and winning Best Screenplay in 2015 for his first English-language outing, the Tim Roth starrer 'Chronic'.
French actor-filmmaker Mathieu Amalric, meanwhile, was presented a special award for 'poetry of cinema' for 'Barbara' — this year's Un Certain Regard opener. Centered on the mononymous French chanteuse of the same name, 'Barbara' is less a traditional biopic than a layered, dream-like tribute, starring Jeanne Balibar as an actress playing the singer in an imaginary film of her life.
Finally, Italian actress Jasmine Trinca received a jury award for her performance as a gritty, poverty-stricken single mother in Sergio Castellitto's social melodrama 'Fortunata'.