Under the Shadow. Directed and written by Babak Anvari. Cast. Narges Rashidi, Avin Manshadi, Bobby Naderi, Arash Marandi, Aram Ghasemy, Soussan Farrokhnia, Behi Djanati Atai, Ray Haratian, Hamidreza Djavdan, Bijan Daneshmand. (Farsi dialogue) 1hr 24mins.
Stunning boundary pushing Cinema.
You may be like me and only look at the biography of a films genre only to indicate the sort of film you are likely to see and have an attitude which lowers its significance simply because you are after a good or bad review opinion. One you can discount and play with according to the ‘limitations’ the industry tends to categorise any film into. So this is one which I found delivering as a first sign of something special a bit of a Headstretch being – and it was seen at Sundance very much in the Horror category – put into the niche for which filmgoers are (not) seen as being in need of assistance. It might be a reason of categorisation for an award situation – at best.
The Headstretch is because this film is choreographed in a very satisfactory way and is nothing of a horror film from the outset and due to this confronts you somewhere near half-way with a sure stimulus of horror and peril in the traditional sense of fear psychodramatic cinema. Of that much later but first the beginning and first half is very important and necessary as a discourse on a nations fate in modern times. Attitudes to War, sense of political, cultural, sexual, professional, and not least religious oppression. Babak Anvari’s film as a mainstream first language Farsi debut is in the tradition of Iranian cinema up there on a world class level of superb film making and is in addition a ‘Horror’ movie shifting real perception of cinema and story telling.
The film begins over the titles with a caption of the timescale which is the immediate aftermath of the 1979 Iran Cultural Revolution. The Iranian Iraq war of 1980 to 1988 is the context which this setting within Tehran is a location driven synopsis. Scenes of stock news footage of bombing raids, film makers own stock of people fleeing carnage and bombardment at the street level and wasted buildings, injured and the dead in transit to hospital or static compress the entry to the score of context. From that we immediately are introduced to a Tehran University campus and Shideh (Narges Rashdi) in a brilliant feminine role, exploring her life as a woman in this war torn state of multiple oppressions entering the University to see if she can pass an interview for teen try which she is relying on to equip her to become a Doctor – a bitter confrontation later at home domestically with her husband, Iraj (Bobby Naderi) who himself is a practicing Hospital Doctor raises its ugly head as a depiction of male cultural and nonessential analysis of her station and status – they have a daughter, an only child of around eight who nearly in the later stages of the film nearly takes off as the star performer – Dorsa (Avin Manshadi), a startling performance in the end from a child dealing with the range of emotions horror drafts in, magnificently.
The University encounter does not go well and in true place setting style a little (far from it) aside, within the interview room overlooking Tehran on any given groundhog day is deployed skilfully alongside the narrative of the interview. On return to her neighbourhood and past a checkpoint we are signalled into a set of unremitting and in true meaning of horrific circumstances to her relatively modest small rented apartment block within its own carefully culturally coiffured compound, with a screen tiled wall with a soft garden aspect and sturdy architecturally robust pedestrian gates with at the rear an automatic sliding metal gate separating them off from the outside immediate community. The landlord Mr Ebrahimi and self appointed caretaker Mr Bakar has proprietorial needs over locking these ‘aid metaphor’ gates as the tenants themselves form a block to the outside world of very defining content. They are from time to time all under lockdown. Lights go out Electricity of and a siren signals they need get to the ‘basement’ bottom floor garages for protection from bombing raids.
Home with Iraj
That sets up the environmental conditions so next the family circumstances. Her husband is as they both are in his thirties and their child is very lovingly cared for and integrations for all are limited. He is a decent Iranian with locked in syndrome let’s call it of a normal Iranian male – in the limited context of character development. Maybe an Iranian male will be so bold as to construct a movie from the male perspective of the scenarios found and not an extreme macho homoerotic even machismo male trying to unlock his inner God status! Back to that in hand so to speak, which has them separate for a time and leaving Shideh and Dorsa in their flat alone. There are tell tale parts particularly a ‘mute’ young boy who’s staying in the house as a refugee nephew and co-habits the space between the domestic and paranormal as he interacts alone with Dorsa and has a disconcerting attitude Towards those around him as he reflects on his short violent past experiences.
The action ramps up from this point onward as the might and fright of a city under continuing seige as well as the urging so from Iraj for them to leave to his parents safer home out of the city is declined by this confronted woman.
I see the textile blanket/shrouds as a metaphor illusory of complex comfort zones which convey the sub-text of religiosity, dependency, in such claustrophobic worlds. They are an illustration of the immensity of thought control and world view – the Metanoia, METANOIA, of containment and transformation via. a mechanism not on earth, nevertheless in a place which is contingent with belief in a creator. It may even explain for Westen audiences such concepts applied in general illustrative intuitive places such as I believe this film conveys.
Some reviewers of the bat have thought of this – and they are partially correct – as being ‘subversively incisive’ on Feminism. Only partially for reason in my mind of the horror element – and clever use of Iranian cultural referencing of a thing called Djinn, apparently referee ended in the Quran, shows the spiritual overarching of Religious and National identity so strongly and intensely developed and present here in this film as to make me construct a theory of the religion and it’s not alone as a religion in this – Rostecrutian, Judaism, Hindism, come equally to mind alongside less evenly Western forms of Religion, Scandinavian Trolls etc,. come to mind including elf dwelling! – which includes in its Dogma and Creedal construct the recognition of other species of spirits wholly present in this world and Universe and actually alongside and acting in relation to everything we do.
For the current world to be vastly and ‘universally’ troubled by mind states which include very dogmatic and fundamental expression of probity and conformity which is elevated to the place of destruction of opposing human forces and symbols in violent forms – Female oppression, Cinema, Books, Entertainment, Freedom of movement, Nationality, is a major part of the everyday – apart from our bread and circuses escapist counter-cultures (to religious intransigence and formative fixed religious persuasions) heaped upon us daily and sought as by products of identity construction
What is the paranormal – come back in the after life and advise or settle for hokum pokum definitions aside from deeper cinema derived meanings – this apart. Could it be for instance as this film conveys in part to me, a place for the human to reside and ‘aleviate’fears through hallucinatory mind imaginings which are extremely horrific and displacing in spontaneous mental reaction to an imperfect storm of a collection of events linked by the hemisphere of the brain assigned to formulating reality as seen through our CHEMICAL concepts which we form our senses in and which overlaps occur as basic normal FORMULA which only become startlingly disconcerting and UNREAL once they are deployed and become new visions, quite literally, all because the intensity of the circumstantial which here is so evident – from adjustment to loss – this happens on several levels, Shideh’s Mum some six months earlier, the death of a tenant, the loss of Dorsa’s doll, Kima, exulted exercise to Jane Fonda videos. Such is her need for self and demonstrates the energy to do what her ambitions hold.
Iran and the family is so important a communal statement but it faces the rigidity of interracial, imposed religious practice, guilt ridden political supremacist formulaic governance, oppression of women in everyday life as norms that this film just build a very high tower of escalating horrific paranormal existence. It actually is seen in the mid to late part of the film as a disintegrating universe with all kinds of VFX assisted shuddering, sometimes close up shock inspiring camera effected shaking reality. I detected for instance when a bomb landed in close proximity the screen shook or was seen to frame shift as part of the film cinematography. Intensity builds and builds as events unfold and portray the paranormal events none of whic are to be revealed here. In sometimes Japanese stylised segments the real is uncompromisingly unreal and it would have been an even better cinema experience had I chosen a seat closer to the screen to remove the outside of the frame as much as possible. Sit as close as you discomfort zone allows!
Parallel worlds of Religious Reality and Thoelogy.
For someone who makes it their business in writing and reviewing, even everyday experience, I examine the way the spiritual aspect of all are placed in modern times with the very many interloping and religious bias politically present/absent with very strange results being thrown up by the many forms of media oriented devices we encounter, principally workings on everyday world we live in. Now this is found to have another niche and piece of art – Under the Shadow – is such a brilliant film of an Iranian background and outlet for a dialogue by new director . It’s inventions and strangeness present a highly provocative display of an intellect looking at – principally the Iranian, Tehran, exposure to War in 1980 to 1988. Feminism’s one cited objective of exploration. War intrinsically another but infinitely more tangible is the presence of fear in all dimensions of humanity. The poltergeist of child Dorsa is pivotal in this visceral miraculous oddity.
Harrowing and a view of a world of the war between Iraq and Iran which became a brutal forerunner for more and Oder conflicts pursued with atrocicious effect by the Blair/Bush finish this warfare by warfare as never seen before on a completely manufactured basis. The world continues to pay the price and directly affected nations have a mountain to climb to remove the human damage created. This is a superb but brief home situated drama horror which as the account above explains enters territory of the questions of conflict culture and sense of self and identity it is very very impressive.
The achievement is notable as a multifaceted movie which only strangely and savagely effectively brings to the point of breakdown the situation constructed in the realm of the home and person. It is worthy of many viewings as its pace accelearaetes in the second half as a spiral of visually affective frame shifting tableaux of what is going on and in fullsome strength of the ‘genre’ it places entry to the Cineworld under a dangerously formulaic genre. Can’t recommend highly enough.
28 September 2016
On at selected Cinemas and available as a download on Netflix but see in an environment like Queens Film Theatre in a close up audio visually intense experience. See you you get on with this roller coaster of personal paranormality.
On at QFT Belfast from Friday 30 September 2016 (this Friday) until And including Thursday 6 October 2016.