Sunless Shadows [Online]
Aug. 7 – Sep. 4, 2020
Mehrdad Oskouei’s follow-up to the critically acclaimed Starless Dreams (2016), Sunless Shadows takes another look at the lives of teenage girls in an Iranian juvenile detention center. But this time the focus is narrowed: each of the film’s principal subjects is serving time for the murder of a male family member. One by one, Oskouei invites them to go into a room alone, push the red button on the camera and address their accomplices or their victims.
With this new confessional approach combined with the ever-deepening relationships he has with his subjects, Oskouei presents a picture of the disenfranchised in an aggressively male-dominated society and of the prison that is their shelter from it.
Synopsis and images courtesy of Cinema Guild. Visit their site for full photo credits.
“…quietly but pointedly interrogates the notion of victimhood, while tacitly letting a damning essay on Iranian gender politics and hierarchies emerge through the words of his subjects. … In the wrong hands, [the confessional booth technique deployed by the director] could feel exploitative, yet Sunless Shadows never gives off the impression of extracting feelings from its subjects: Rather, it receptively gives them a platform they’ve hitherto been denied. The comfortable, trusting rapport between Oskouei (who’s never seen on screen) and the girls is palpable, not least when they casually refer to him as “Uncle Mehrdad” mid-conversation.” – Guy Lodge, Variety
This film focuses on the act of murder. Not so much the how, but the why.
Iranian women who murder their husbands show very little remorse for their homicides. Even after years in prison, they still believe that they were in the right. But why would a mother kill her husband with her daughter’s help? What happened in their lives to bring them to such an act? There are those who say they should have gotten divorced instead of killing their husbands, but when divorce is decided by the husband and the wife has no say, what then?
In this film we see murder through the eyes of murderers, both mothers and daughters. I wanted to scrutinize their act of killing from various perspectives, understand their reasons and find out whether the act itself was a difficult task. Do they carry the burden of their deed for years on end?
I have been filming at Centers for Correction and Rehabilitation for 12 years. Both my father and grandfather were political prisoners and, as a consequence, prisons and prisoners have always fascinated me. What’s more, when I was 15, I attempted suicide after my father’s third bankruptcy. Suicide strangely makes one both murderer and murdered. That is perhaps why I feel the need to delve into the motivations of those who kill and try to elucidate them.