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2nd Farsi film will compete at Oscars.

There are now two Persian language films competing for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film of 2016, as Britain has nominated a movie filmed in Farsi by a British-Iranian dual national.

The UK submission is "Under the Shadow," a chilling film written and directed by Babak Anvari. The film is set in Tehran in the spring of 1988, when Iraq was raining down missiles on the city in a successful effort to break Iranian morale.

The film focuses on a mother and daughter besieged by forces both worldly and otherworldly in a Tehran apartment block, a woman shackled by Sharia law who becomes more scared of the demonic forces tormenting her daughter than of the lashes threatened by her rulers or of the fire falling from the sky.

The Guardian calls it "thoughtful, provocative and increasingly scary fare, which succeeds equally as feminist fable, fractured family drama and fullon fright-fest."

Anvari, now 33, was a five-year-old during that eventful spring. If the film is any indicator, one of the things he noticed most was sounds as the missiles impacted and exploded. The sound track of his film is very impressive--not just the missiles and bombs but the crash of a breaking window and even the amplified snap of a toaster popping up bread.

Anvari told The Guardian he is still haunted by his experiences of 1988.

"My brother and I have grown up being scared of everything and anything," said Anvari. "We've both grown up with night terrors, being afraid of being left alone, of being in the dark for too long."


When Anvari and his brother were toddlers, their father, a doctor, would leave the tall apartment block in which they lived in Tehran for mandatory stints on the frontline, leaving his sons in the sole care of their young mother, Farzaneh.

"My mother came to visit me in London, and I asked her why she had raised such scared boys," said Anvari. "She confessed she felt almost constantly afraid and stressed during those months when Dad was away, and she's convinced she subconsciously passed all her fears on to us. She blames herself."

That fraught conversation was the spark for "Under the Shadow." Acquired by Netflix before its premiere at this year's Sundance, Anvari's debut feature is already being talked of as a horror classic.

The film, researched with photos from family albums, shot in Amman, Jordan, with UK money, and spoken in Farsi, "is a social-realist drama that morphs into a gothic ghost story," says The Guardian.

The opening title credits are accompanied by archival footage of bombs dropping and people scattering on the streets of Tehran, before moving to dramatized evocations of Anvari's earliest memories.

"The war was largely invisible to us, because Tehran wasn't the frontline," Anvari says. "We were children, and we didn't really know what was happening. But I remember sirens wailing and running with my neighbors into the basement of the apartment block. I remember the arguments and rumors that would circulate down there, hearing these distant blasts of Iraqi missiles."

His heroine is Shideh, played by Narges Rashidi, a doctor who has been banned for her political activism. When her husband is called to the frontline, Shideh is left in the apartment with their young daughter Dorsa (Avin Manshadi).

Shideh angrily works out to an illegal Jane Fonda aerobics tape, her resentment building towards her husband and the Pasdaran who patrol the streets. Then a missile tears through the upper floor of the apartment block, leaving deep, dark cracks in the ceiling of their living room.

The unexploded bomb starts to weigh on the home. Young Dorsa becomes sleepless and fevered, sees apparitions in the apartment that seem, to her child's eyes, potent and real. A superstitious, deeply conservative neighbor warns Shideh of the presence of jinn, the wind-born spirits that haunt places already beset by fear. As the other tenants start to flee the building, Dorsa and Shideh are left to confront a malevolent spirit that may or may not be imagined.

Actress Rashidi was born in Tehran, leaving for Turkey, and then Germany, at the age of seven. Like Anvari, she also has traumatic early memories of the city of her birth.

"I was no younger than Avin," Rashidi told The Guardian. "I remember falling asleep in the middle of the night in my mum's lap, and waking up to the sound of bombs falling. We'd be taken down to the cellar to hide, and my mum would always play loud music and start dancing. She would make us stand up and dance with her, so she had her tricks to keep us from being afraid.

"When I think of the adults in my life at that time, I remember how exhausted they all looked, even as they tried to give us a happy childhood."

Now an actress in Los Angeles, Rashidi found herself reexamining the impact of her own past in order to portray Shideh. "I knew what was going on," she says of the war. "I was old enough to pick things up. But I never looked into those memories after leaving Tehran. I wanted to try and forget such things--war and revolution--so I could get on with my life. I tried to forget, to put it all away. But it was there. I never lost it; I just never dug into it. I had to do that with this movie. I had to go back to that time, and it was difficult."

In one stunning scene, Shideh flees the apartment in terror when the spirit finally reveals itself, only to be arrested by a patrol of revolutionary police. Her crime, punishable by lashes, is for venturing into the daylight without her chador.


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Title Annotation:Culture: From then to now
Publication:Iran Times International (Washington, DC)
Date:Oct 7, 2016
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