Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

Forum locked This topic is locked, you cannot edit posts or make further replies.  [ 1 post ] 
Author Message
PostPosted: Thu Jan 19, 2017 8:58 am 
Site Admin

Joined: Sat Mar 08, 2003 1:50 pm
Posts: 3654
Location: California/NYC

All the sad young women

Starless Dreams does one of the basic things we value documentaries for. It takes us where we have not been before: this time, to an Iranian women's detention center. If only it brought us more enlightenment. It seems what happens in this center, in effect a minimum security prison, isn't really important, nor the charges, nor the length of the sentences, which after the filmmaker, Mehrdad Oskouei, has talked to a dozen of the inmates, are things that remain somewhat vague. His interest rather is in where the girls come from and the lives they have lived; their brutal, dysfunctional families, their dim prospects in life. Oskouei could have provided more context, fact, statistics, his own orientation. But he doesn't. One is left feeling depressed, not so much because of the sad personal stories, although they are sad - but they are also sometimes eloquent and beautiful - but because this artistic, strangely handsome looking film leaves us in the end so little the wiser.

We get to see the young women. Yes, they're all wearing hijabs and long robes, mostly black. They look like a gaggle of nuns, nuns in prison. They live, for the time being, in a big, long, high ceilinged room with double-decker metal frame bunks along both sides and a long table in the middle where the women sit and eat. Before meals they stand in line with tin trays like you might see at college dining halls or army mess halls, for food dished out to them. The room is bright, not forbidding. It has pale multi-colored walls and hanging decorations. It has plants. It has a big TV screen, maybe with a DVD player. It's winter, and in an early scene, the women play outside in the snow, joking, singing, and making a snowman on a table. The film's austere color makes handsome use of the winter tonalities. Some of the women/girls are pretty, despite cheap tattoos and a need of dental work, and they look fresh and young.

Sometimes they have fun. It's a little like summer camp, as Mike D'Angelo on LETTERBOXD, citing his own similar experience, comments. They sing, they chant, they play with sock puppets. One of the girls shows an ironic diary of her life: her drawings show real talent. How much time they may have to themselves we don't know, but they seem at liberty in the space. Some just brood, or weep. Some knit. They have group projects, decorating the room, washing a big rug, bringing in new plants. (This is really nicer than a minimum security prison, and a lot more restricted than summer camp.) They also pray, and on Friday a plump young imam comes to lead prayer and then instead of preaching to them asks them for their views. Wow, do they have a lot of complaints - about the many ways the society and the religion mistreat women and favor men. He replies with bland shibboleths - "We must learn to behave ourselves" - that sort of thing. We do not see any notable interaction between the administration of the place and the inmates, except when they make phone calls to explain conditions of release (a family member must come).

Mainly Mehrdad Oskouei (whom the girls call "Uncle Mehrdad" at one point) pursues, in between the general scenes and views of the place, a series of quiet, solitary interviews, constantly asking them, one on one, in a soft voice, off camera, questions about their lives - drugs, beatings, prostitution, being "bothered" (sexually abused) by a family member, and their hopes and dreams. When one or two of them are about to be released, they are happy, and there's a warm general leave-taking that shows the intense affection that has grown up when one young woman leaves. Often, however, they are not happy, not even to be leaving, because some believe, with good reason, that they are safer here than either at home or on the street. The overriding impression we get from the director's gentle but persistent interviews is of two things: unhappiness and hopelessness.

It's a safe place, but there's little to validate the second part of its name, "Correctional and Rehabilitation Center," not that that's a surprise: this is just a standard name worldwide for a minimum security prison. Mostly these women are just passing the time, however pleasantly or sociably. At the end when Nowruz, the Iranian New Year, comes and there is a scene of singing and celebration in the room, some of the women are shown to be still sitting numbly their beds, unable to smile.

This, which is the third in a series, the other two being about detention centers for boys, provides a vivid glimpse, a tranche de vie. There's a sense of the place, and many hints of the lives of the girls/women. The filmmakers may have had unusual access. It's a film of elegant simplicity; it has style and beauty. It has won numerous awards. Yet it doesn't quite deliver the surprises and passion, the broadened context and deepened knowledge that would make it, for me, a great documentary. Maybe it should be shown with the other two films.

Starless Dreams (رؤیاهای دم صبح / Royahaye dame sobh, "Dreams of the Dawn"), 75 mins., debuted at Tehran's Fajr festival and the Berlinale March 2016, and shown at over two dozen other international festivals. It has won 26 awards, including the Amnesty International Film Prize (tied with Gianfranco Rosi's Fuocoammare) at Berlin and documentary awards at London and True/False (Columbia, Missouri. Limited US theatrical release 20 Jan. 2017, at The Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens, New York from The Cinema Guild.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

Display posts from previous:  Sort by  
Forum locked This topic is locked, you cannot edit posts or make further replies.  [ 1 post ] 

All times are UTC - 8 hours

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 17 guests

You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot post attachments in this forum

Search for:
Jump to:  
Powered by phpBB® Forum Software © phpBB Group