Mehrdad Oskouei at Anthology

Starting yesterday, and on through Wednesday, Anthology Film Archives in New York is presenting a series curated by Steve Erickson, Documentary, Iranian Style: The Films of Mehrdad Oskouei. “It’s about as essential a film series as I can imagine,” writes Bilge Ebiri in the Village Voice.

“Set in what is effectively a prison for teenage girls—a facility on the outskirts of Tehran called the ‘Center for Correction and Rehabilitation of Young Adults’—Starless Dreams [2016; image above] follows the lives of its young subjects as they play, pray, gossip, and clown around,” writes Ebiri. “Many of them are there for drug-related offenses; some of them have kids of their own; they often share backgrounds of abuse, poverty, addiction. Life inside the walls, however, isn’t necessarily one of cells and repression and discipline. We sense a kind of community forming among these girls, many of whom have been abandoned by their families in the outside world. Starless Dreams is the final entry in a trilogy of works set at the Center. The previous efforts, It’s Always Late for Freedom (2007) and The Last Days of Winter (2011), looked at the boys’ wing of the institution.”

Writing for the Notebook, Tanner Tafelski points out that in his work in the 2000s, “Oskouei had a kind utilitarian approach to filmmaking. Edits were often ‘harsh,’ frequently crosscutting from one event to the other, creating dialectical relations. In I Can’t Remember Anything About Afghanistan [2002], a look at a school filled with displaced children due to the war in Afghanistan, Oskouei opts for blunt cuts, here providing close-ups of tear-streaked faces. In one moment, when the kids are at their lowest, the teacher shares a sense of loss with them, telling them that she hasn’t seen her children in years. None of them will go home again anytime soon. The women in The Other Side of Burka [2004], on the other hand, desperately want to leave home.”

“The film is set on the island of Qeshm, off Iran’s southern coast, among a strict Arabic community of African descent, where all the women are required to wear a ‘burka,’ which is a mask colored black or gold, which covers half their face,” writes Christopher Bourne for ScreenAnarchy. “The film explores a rash of suicides among the women on the island . . . Late in the film there are powerful images of the ‘zaar,’ a religious ceremony that looks similar to an exorcism, which affords these women their only outlet to express the pain, and probably rage, they must feel inside. Oskouei’s camera, which often frames the women’s faces in the center of the frame, wearing their restrictive burka, in a way that, despite the clear evidence of their oppression, comes across here as confrontational and defiant.”

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