In Farzad Khoshdast’s documentary, four female inmates in a Tehran prison tell the shocking and often gruesome stories of their crimes in their own words

Farzad Khoshdast’s documentary is one of the few Iranian films to look at the lives of female prisoners. The other notable example is Manijeh Hekmat’s 2002 drama Zendan-e Zanan, or Women’s Prison.) Set in Gharchack, a women’s prison in Tehran, the film interviews four inmates referred to as Doors One, Two, Three and Four about their crimes.

In the opening scene, an unseen woman is heard screaming, crying and begging to be set free. She blames the man who “made her do it” and weeps for her youth, which will be wasted behind bars. One of the inmates describes her confinement cell, which contains “just a bed” and “looks like a grave”.

Door One committed an acid attack aged 19 while high on crystal meth and cocaine, while Door Two, in a drug-fuelled fit, threw her young son, giving him a fatal head trauma. Street vendor and drug addict Door Three recounts stabbing her rapist to death; former teenage delinquent and notorious bully Door Four, meanwhile, reveals that she killed one of her fellow inmates. It’s strong stuff.

Khoshdast notes the contexts in which these crimes happened and the coercion, abuse and sexual assault these women experienced. Door One, for example, married to escape her abusive stepfather, only to discover that her new husband was an addict who drove her to take drugs. Doors Two and Three were abused as children. One of the four women interviewed was abandoned by her family, while two reveal they have Aids. Their choices are framed as limited by the strict patriarchal structures in which they exist (and their husbands and fathers’ lack of culpability). Yet despite the film’s inclination towards broad statements about Iranian society, the women in the film represent a narrow slice.

Still, there are interesting moments – such as when the camera pulls back to watch Door Four from an elevated security camera as she paces an empty room and tells her stories with a sharp, blackly comedic edge; and when Door Three tearfully acknowledges the joy she felt when avenging her rapist. It’s a noble project, one that tries to let the women tell their own stories, but Khoshdast’s approach doesn’t always seem ethical. He frequently pushes the women for harrowing details about the traumas they’ve lived through, probing them for the grisly statistics about their victims: how many of their victims’ bones did they manage to break? (A staggering 74.) Where were they were stabbed and how did they die? He seems to delight in the salaciousness of the crimes, whose intricacies offer little more than dramatic punctuation.

Khoshdast, a student of Abbas Kiarostami, borrows his mentor’s sense of stillness, with the film coming alive in chilling, static images of hijab-wearing women cast against high cement walls. He desaturates the images, a sickly palette of grey and beige mimicking the way these women’s lives have also been sapped of colour. However, it is soon apparent that the desaturation is a foil to create contrast with a more blunt visual flourish. When each woman admits her crime to camera, the image clouds with crimson, literalising the idea of “red mist” – the temporary rage that blinds judgment. These red interludes occur intermittently, underscoring (or, more accurately, overscoring) the violence these women have perpetrated. An embellishment designed to add poetry to the proceedings, the technique is too heavy-handed to create real impact. The stories themselves are shocking enough.

Source » theguardian