Under the Shadow : A Film Review

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.

Educational restrictions.

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.


Contrary views

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.

Cultural controls

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.

Conclusion ####4

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.

John Graham

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.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night : A Film Review

Director. Ana Lily Amirpour. USA. 2014. 1hr 41mins. Subtitled.
Starring. Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi, Dominic Rains, Marshall Manesh.image
Monochrome Undeparture
This film is set in anyplace Iran. Filmed in America with one very prominent American/Iranian actress devouring the screen in front of us.
It is daytime and nothing Beckett like is happening. So to night then.
In the live’s anyway there appear to be voids. The possessions they are few and ‘others’ have lives which the ‘Humans’ eschew.
The landscape is allegedly hipster, with vapid, jejune vapors hanging clandestinely, as low, soon to be had morsels.
To be in sych with this film you need adopt the genre, as I have in the past suggested with horror you need to go that degree further to reference, to spot the similarities, often so replicate to be a comedy trash in moment.
Here is the teenage hyperbole. The Stephanie Meyer territory of Bree Tanner for a nano second then the ‘city’ ‘reality’ suspension.
The film is not as bereft as the ‘Twilight’ language which ‘allows’ such ‘pathos’ as ‘her time as an immortal is running out‘ well that’s a shocking dilemma then ain’t it. How does that work? Fact. It is a novel idea without an idea to close or open with.
Do not walk alone at night.
This is the films only lesson.
A definition
1734, from Fr. vampire or Ger. Vampir (1732, in an account of Hungarian vampires), from Hung. vampir, from O.C.S. opiri (cf. Serb. vampir, Bulg. vapir, Ukrainian uper), said by Slavic linguist Franc Mikloič to be ult. from Kazan Tatar ubyr “witch.”
Viz a Viz Vamps what are they?
An Eastern European creature popularized in Eng. by late 19c. gothic novels, however there are scattered Eng. accounts of night-walking, blood-gorged, plague-spreading undead corpses from as far back as 1196. Applied 1774 by Fr. biologist Buffon to a species of South American blood-sucking bat.
Widescreen backdrop
Welcome to the black and white, night and day homespun tale of horrific blood letting on widescreen given lore and mythical visual context this time in a loosely Iran tale filmed in Wilderness America.
Since you were inclined to sink your teeth into a sibling or friends rubber duck or Simpsons bath toy you will be familiar with the satisfaction it gives or rather tension it releases ipso facto in sheer derring do. Blissimo.
Quantum Leap
In today’s world we are not confined to arresting our imaginations as the sciences have produced extraordinary unforeseen depths and seemingly parallel theories for our existence. None of which (witch?!) are remotely or currently viable. Let’s take another meaning. You can hide nothing from the quidnunc of Hanbridge. Moreover, when a quidnunc in the streets of Hanbridge sees somebody famous or striking, or notorious, he does not pretend that he has seen nobody.
Arnold Bennett , Denry the Audacious , 1911.
So what am I leading towards.
The film you are about to see or consider seeing is about no-one being erudite or elucidating about their own life’s. It is the fluid space of the inner mind writ large or on scraps of portraiture lovingly conceived in the cinematic tour de force of the pleasuring Ana Lily Amirpours directorship.
It is a series of arabesques around the notion of living in a bigger space on a narrower confine set out by the human of oneself. The motive of fast human motion is often a feature of Vampirish behaviour. The swift attack from a ‘standing’ start. Incisive. So with the dance motif. The still followed by the resolution with stretched arm and one legged balance. Ballet and the art of the mid point transition are complementary.
One set out in alone terms. That is how I took on the central verb.
And where is Margaret Atwood when you need literal meaning but way down the long list of thank you’s in the final credits her name appears.
That after the credits for music which features highly as a success of the film. The Kiosk sounding like The Killers only less climaxing. Radio Tehran another Iran band do extras. Turns aplenty at the hot and heavy moments.
It makes Rigsy and Baille sound Smashie and Nicey.
The addition of powers needed accrues as of the qui cosmic regions of outlandish behaviours visited in nocturnal delights.
This is the vision of the characters jejune attempts at becoming a true Vampire. She continually tests, including a young boy who she teases to a painful extent as she does with her empathy vibe interlaced in her sexual awakened moments.
So the extreme b/w Sheila Vand features accentuated such as her high cheekbones, lurid dark eyes, thin cropped figure a la belle along with a tendency to – and this creates a horizontal well earth dwelling of the widescreen formatting, wear a sailor sweater or tee shirt.
Louise Brooks along with Cornelia Parker rather than Lily Tomlinson, or Isabella Blow came to mind as her hair created a second bewitching cape.
The rueful look is enough to drop dislike or any failure of empathy with this waif like creature. She is portrayed, and somehow the trick is achieved directorial and through the expressive face of firstly put down upon belief of the erstwhile heroine. A caped cruiser. She follows our characters each as we meet them, parapsychological mania about to be perfected as we watch their fate unfold.
Up parapsychological avenue.
Firstly is a villain who is the drip feed for the helpless pairing of Arash and his father Hossein (Marshall Manesh) who has become under the tutelage of the villain (Dominic Rains) addicted to injected Heroin. The chrome becomes a commodity along with Rains stable of prostitutes, of which one features heavily as the story of a kind moves on.

From the daylight opening frames with a score unleashed as a rock lead (note to self – insert Tindersticks not the moronic) like burnt piano quantic variations, seeing we are on the Q’s. the widescreen takes delivery of the scenic outdoors of non-lived in vacant city areas.
Allegory for a dehabitated world.
This allegedly is Bad City from the ascribed reactions and internal juices of the film itself. Makeover city it is not. The endless power station, trucks of stationary for miles in the background while the male of Arash (Arash Marandi), a man going on a boy of about twenty who white vest and jeans leaves enough exposed neck to put himself in the endangered category if the élan of the Tehran/Mississippi district is to be inculcated by the homage to such delights as Sin City and the acclaimed niche TV bites across the networks as of the twinkling ‘Twilight’ yesteryears of the 2010’s as demons were found wanting out of the First decade.

Conclusion ###3
This is a non story with even a part played by an small slick sports 1950’s automobile. It is the chrome centre piece. It is a slick survivor.
Some virtues of the narrowness of this tale are in the leads acting and the comedic value of the intensity and predatory nature of the family circle created in the confines of this ponderous wafer thin story.
The father son relationship is beautifully wrought with emotion and is even closely resembling any other directors search to portray the bond of love which is crossed triggered and impenetrable as to enable the foot pedals of the defibrillator to resuscitate any shared oxygen of a life together.
The scenes around this alone (don’t walk alone at night – don’t forget) is heart-wrenchingly good but not entirely enough to make a very good film out of as might have arisen. It may have weaknesses but it has sufficient pace improbability, and peril of the kind to be expected that I anticipate if you are into horror or the genre in anyway you will come away satiated.
If you’ve got to walk alone at night carry a wooden stake a cross or a bible or whatever alarming device it is legal to deter strangers with but whatever happens proceed with cautionary nocturnal awareness.

John Graham

28 May 2015


Opens at QFT as a New release though it appeared during the latest Belfast Film Festival on Friday 29 May through to including Thursday 4 June 2015.