A glimpse into Iran between two revolutions, Mohammad Reza Aslani’s long-lost first feature manages to meld Vermeer-like drawing-room drama with gothic horror.
In an enormous yet claustrophobic house ruled by her tyrant stepfather, a privileged woman (Fakhri Khorvash) is caught like a butterfly under glass. Unable to walk and courted by an ambitious man, she believes that all the men around her are scheming to steal the fortune inherited from her mother. And she’s probably right. Away from her, they talk openly about their plans, all hopeful of the opportunities provided by the revolutionary change at the start of the 20th century. Some, like the doctor who attends her, are patrician and well-meaning but all want to control what she has.
Her only friend seems to be her maid (Shohreh Aghdashloo who went on to become a familiar face in US film and TV) but the role of servants is a fraught one. We cut from the hushed and ordered world of the house to a veritable Greek chorus of servants washing clothes and gossiping outside the back of the mansion. This is where we get a real sense of what goes on – a rich lady’s propensity for acid, the tyrant’s abuse of young boys, the whipping of a father until he died.
The woman’s sheltered environment leaves her open to manipulation, and when she commits a crime, it just embeds her deeper in a world where she can’t really trust anyone. As she spirals, the score by Sheyda Gharachedaghi ratchets up the tension and a red and murky haze accentuates her descent into hell. The final scenes are full of glorious gothic excess as we see, perhaps, the end of aristocracy and a new dawn. The final shot takes us from the 20s to modern-day Tehran, unaware of the fate that would befall the film.
The purge of the 1979 revolution saw the loss of many cultural items thought to be corrupt, including this film due to its depiction of homosexuality and feminist ideals. A print found by Aslani’s son in a junk shop in 2014 allowed it to be restored and resurrected. We are lucky it was found as it is gorgeous to watch and gives us an insight into worlds that have disappeared.
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