Movie Review by EDF
Starring: Narges Rashidi, Avin Manshadi, Bobby Naderi, Ray Haratian, Hamidreza Djavdan and Soussan Farrokhnia
Director: Babak Anvari
It is 1988, Tehran, the Iran / Iraqi conflict continues with both sides dropping bombs left right and centre on each others’ major cities. Shideh (Narges Rashidi) has gone back to medical school to see if she will be accepted back to continue studying to become a doctor. Due to her previous association with left wing activists, Shideh is refused back. Feeling down about this, Shideh is in a grumpy mood when she gets home. Her husband, Iraj (Bobby Naderi), who is a doctor by profession, comes home at the end of the day, greeted by their daughter Dorsa (Avin Manshadi) and finds Shideh packing her medical books in a box. Shideh tells Iraj to pass them on to whoever needs them. Iraj thinks that it is all for the best and that Shideh should be concentrating on raising their daughter. While all of this is going on, there are surprise bomb raids where all the neighbours in the apartment block go to the basement for shelter.
During one air raid evacuation to the basement, Dorsa goes over to a boy that Shideh has not seen before. He turns out to be a nephew of the landlord. Seemingly the boy saw his parents die and has not spoken a word since. The boy gives Dorsa something which she hides from her mother. Shideh finds it in Dorsa’s room and throws it away. Then Dorsa’s doll, of which she is very attached to, disappears.
Iraj announces that due to the annual draft, he has to serve one month as a medic in one of the riskier parts of the country. Iraj tells Shideh that it would be best to leave the city and stay with his parents while he is away on military service duties. Shideh says that she does not want to a burden on the in-laws and will stay where they are. During one restless night, Dorsa wakes up Shideh telling her that she saw a woman in the room who will help her find the doll she has lost. Shideh searches the apartment but does not find anyone. However, Shideh is troubled by dreams of shadows, her husband, Dorsa’s missing doll and cracks in the ceiling that seeming bulge out into the apartment. Can Shideh keep it together with the bombs flying overhead, talk of ghosts and pressure from her husband to leave the city?
This has been compared to THE BABADOOK which is a bit unfair. While there are similarities, mother and child battling forces within and outside of their circle, this movies approach in telling the story of the main characters seemingly starts off as a family drama that slowly introduces the supernatural elements. It takes its time before you see anything but by then the tension has been cranked up due to the plight of these well written characters. Iraj is the rock of the family, Shideh’s nerves and decision making are on rocky ground due to the recent death of her mother and the rejection from medical school. Both parents are flawed which makes them all the more believable. Avin Manshadi’s impressive first time performance as Dorsa is played just right without a hint of cutesy, just a normal child in extraordinary circumstances. While this does incorporate the themes of ghost, the title of the movie could also be seen as an allegory for the traditional values that Iranian civilians have to follow. Shideh has a VCR which is forbidden and allows her daughter to watch English pop videos and cartoons. Even the non-wearing of a veil can bring dire consequences for a woman. All of these add to the tension of dread for Shideh’s unknown fate. What will get to her first, the regime’s rules or the ghosts. Fascinating.