Year:  2019

Director:  Mehrdad Oskouei

Release:  December 7 – 20, 2020

Running time: 74 minutes

Worth: $16.00
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...wrenching stuff, but it’s also engrossing and riveting.

In terms of subject matter, documentaries don’t come grimmer than this one. The interviewees have mostly been convicted of murdering a father, brother or other family member, and the location is the Rehabilitation and Correctional Centre for Girls in Tehran. Most of them come across as rather sweet and innocent, and the terrible truth appears to be that in any meaningful sense they really ARE. The violence done by them – some of it described in detail – becomes entirely understandable once you hear about the horrific brutality and other cruelty which drove them to it.

All that said, there are – believe it or not – a few lighter moments here, as the girls bond or play charades and hopscotch or look after ducklings. But this is mostly, the very definition of tragedy, and it speaks volumes about the patriarchal hell of the wider context that one young woman – released, but returning to visit her friends – actually says that she prefers life “inside”.

What on earth can you say about a mindset in which two brothers want their mother to be hanged? Or, for that matter, about the level of brainwashing that makes a girl say, “A woman gets wiser with a man’s punches and women force men to beat them”? (Not that all the girls are so sadly deluded, or entirely regret their actions.)

There is a change of scene toward the end of Sunless Shadows, at which point things get even sadder. That’s because we are ‘flies on the wall’ when two of the inmates are taken to visit their mother at Rey City Women’s Prison, where she is facing execution. Intense love between daughters and mothers is, indeed, a prevailing theme here.

This is, as you’ve no doubt already gathered, wrenching stuff, but it’s also engrossing and riveting.


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