Tag Archives: Iranian cinema

Under the Shadow

Under the Shadow

Format: Cinema

Release date: 30 September 2016

DVD release date: 23 January 2017

Distributor: Vertigo Releasing

Director: Babak Anvari

Writer: Babak Anvari

Cast: Narges Rashidi, Avin Manshadi, Bobby Naderi

Iran, Jordan, Qatar, UK 2016

84 mins

This Farsi-language maternal horror film was one of the great discoveries at this year’s Horror Channel FrightFest.

Opening with an explanatory text that places the film within the context of the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, Under the Shadow firmly grounds its horror in the doubly terrifying realities of a conflict zone and a harsh authoritarian regime. Slowly building up the tension, the film initially centres on the frustrations of Shideh, a young mother banned from continuing her medical studies because of her past political activism. The grinding down of women takes many forms in post-revolution Iran, from the active repression of the authorities to the incomprehension of her generally kind husband, who seems unable to sympathize with her ambitions.

When he is drafted and sent to the front, Shideh finds herself alone to care for their young daughter Dorsa, stubbornly refusing to leave the city to go and stay with her in-laws. As the bombardments intensify, a missile falls through the apartment above, and superstitious neighbours begin to whisper that it has brought something sinister with it. Rational and modern, Shideh initially dismisses the claims, but soon she is forced to take her daughter’s mounting fears seriously.

The realistic start and slow-burn narrative make the terrors that follow intensely affecting. Shideh is a character out of place in her country, in her apartment block and in her own marriage, and her feelings of inadequacy wildly erupt once the missile has broken through the familiar ordering of reality. The cracks in the ceiling it has caused cannot be closed up, the irrational forces it unleashed now out of control. Maternal anxiety, at odds with Shideh’s longing for a medical career, poignantly seeps through the second part of the film, her conflicted love for her daughter making every scare horribly meaningful.

After A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, this is the second Farsi-language horror film that uses the chador in a menacing way, but where in Ana Lily Amirpour’s film it took on a positive meaning, here it has negative, frightful, oppressive connotations. The use of the chador in Under the Shadow is one example of how the film successfully manages to be both a serious reflection on the position of women in Iran and an intensely creepy horror film. Intelligent and effectively chilling, it wisely avoids providing any facile resolution in its climactic ending.

Virginie Sélavy

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

Format: Cinema

Release date: 22 May 2015

DVD/Blu-ray release date: 24 July 2015

Distributor: Studiocanal

Director: Ana Lily Amirpour

Writer: Ana Lily Amirpour

Cast: Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi, Dominic Rain

Iran, USA 2014

100 mins

One of the top picks in the outstanding selection of this year’s Etrange Festival, Iranian filmmaker Ana Lily Amirpour’s debut feature mixes sumptuous high contrast black and white cinematography, Italian Western music, Jim Jarmusch driftiness, comics influences, Farsi language and a chador-wearing skateboarding vampire girl to create a seductive, singular world entirely her own.

In the Iranian ghost town of Bad City, a hard-working boy with a 50s car and a junkie father tries to confront the nasty drug-dealer who has them under his thumb, and encounters a strange, silent black-cloaked girl in the process. Tentative love slowly develops between the two even though unbeknownst to Arash the Girl continues to stalk the streets at night and feed on the desperado denizens of Bad City.

The loose narrative meanders with achingly beautiful melancholy through one poetic moment after another. The Girl’s skateboard rescuing of a tripping Arash dressed as Dracula in a deserted street is sweet and funny. The oppressive, forbidding-looking machinery in an oil field is a recurrent backdrop, most notably in a scene where a romantic gift is received in a way that undercuts any potential sentimentality. Similarly, a slow-motion scene of developing intimacy set to White Lies’ ‘Death’ is both tender and charged with an undercurrent of danger.

The love between Arash and the Girl slowly grows amid a sombre world where relationships are all tainted: Arash’s parents, the tragic prostitute Atti with Arash’s father Hossein and the abusive drug dealer/pimp have woven webs of desperation, selfishness, violence and untold grief, sometimes punctuated by awkward, misdirected affection. As the bond between Arash and the Girl tightens, they discover that love is about accepting the other’s ‘badness’ and finding the human warmth you didn’t even know you longed for.

Detached and alone, the Girl is a terrific character, both touching and fearsome, combining childlike ingenuity with a menacing edge. Her charismatic presence quietly dominates the film, and she only needs to appear to create a force field of dark energy on the screen. There is also the clear intimation that she and Atti, the only two women in the film – and maybe the street urchin who has a few alarming encounters with the Girl – know more than the hapless male characters, who do not seem to perceive the forces that influence their lives.

Rich in atmosphere, deliberately slow and stylized, the film is in the vein of Let the Right One In, Only Lovers Left Alive and Nadja, using the vampire figure to dreamily evoke loneliness, desperation and the slim hope for a non-toxic human connection. With very little dialogue, the film uses a striking, luminous visual language of its own creation to tell the beginning of cautious new love. A true gem that is not to be missed.

Virginie Sélavy

This review is part of our Etrange Festival 2014 coverage.

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