Wednesday, January 18th, 2017

Starless Dreams

Mehrdad Oskouei’s unflinching and extremely personal documentary shot in a  rehabilitation center for female juvenile delinquents in Tehran for 20 days leading up to New Year, will unquestionably be one of the saddest stories to hit our screens this year.  It took the filmmaker seven years to persuade the Iranian authorities to allow him to film an imprisoned population, otherwise hidden from the public eye, and his patience paid off big time.

These girls were remarkably frank and calm as they opened up to an off-screen Oskouei and his gentle probing about the myriad of crimes that landed them in this one-room lock up with 20 other teenagers.  They are being punished for murder, drug dealing and car theft, but many of the girls seemed to accept that they had no alternative coming from homes where they had drug-addict parents who, along with other family members constantly ‘bothered’ them  ….. the tactful label that Oskuei referred to when discussing physical and sexual abuse.

However almost without exception, the girl’s bravado and remarkable high spirits soon deserted them when questioned about their eventual release from the Prison with most of them saying that they would prefer to remain incarcerated as it was much safer for them than returning to their abusive families.

One 17 year old girl had been married off at 14 years old, and then gave birth to a daughter when she was just 15 years old, was forced to sell drugs by her husband’s family which landed her in the prison.  She tearfully admitted that she had not seen her daughter for the past 7 months.

Despite their unavoidable predicaments there is great feeling of camaraderie in the Unit where they all live, eat and sleep together in dorm-like bunk beds. Oskuei starts the documentary with them frolicking in the snow in the yard, and then on another occasion catching them playing spin the bottle and insisting on ‘truth or dare’ on whoever gets chosen.  There are also other times that we can see several of the girls sitting lifelessly on the bunks with tear filled eyes looking hopelessly in despair as they contemplate their predicaments that they know cannot possibly end well.  It is, as someone remarks in the course of the film as if ‘the pain drips from the walls’, and in fact the biggest crime of all for these girls was to be born in the wrong place. 

As a condition of him being granted access to filming the girls Oskouei had to agree not to follow them when they were released, which in itself just amplifies the complicity of the Authorities all but sanctioning their families right to continue abusing the girls in any and every way that they want.

Starless Dreams makes for compulsive but very depressing viewing, because even in this remarkable documentary highlights an iniquitous situation, we know it will never ever get better for those girls.


Posted by queerguru  at  11:41


Genres:  documentary

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