Iran Zendan (2010) (Iran Prison)
Daryush Shokof


Daryush Shokof, whose films have been my holy grail for a long time now, made Iran Prison (2010) at the wake of the 2009 presidential elections, which was marked by massive waves of public unrest. An open hate letter to the Ahmadinejad regime, the hour long film depicts the inhuman treatment of captured demonstrators in underground cells, which ranges from physical mutilation to murder. These scenes are shot mostly interior, in low-lit chiaroscuro arrangements with an earthy color tone, with handheld recorders and non-professional actors (Shokof casts himself as the supervisor of the facility). This thread of the film reminds one of Wang Bing’s Brutality Factory (2007), in the way it religiously narrows down its scope to merely recording the torture sessions. However, unlike Wang Bing’s movie, which situates itself in the past in order to open it up for contemporary analysis, Shokof’s film is almost totally anti-dialectical and it works upon a given set of firm beliefs and a clear cut ideology. But ‘objectivity’ or ‘nuanced’ synthesis is not its objective, in any case, and it is probably more fruitful to look at the film as a solidarity picture supporting the cause of the protestors against the Islamist regime than as an elaborate critique. Intercut with this fictional recreation of the torture sessions are amateur, low quality video clips (obtained from online video sites, I guess) of mass protests in the streets of Tehran, in which we see young men and women directly confronting the police, often with brutal consequences. This jarring (geographical, cinematic, political) contrast between the two narratives is, additionally, suggestive of Shokof’s own status as an outsider deeply involved with the situation in his home country.

(Posted as part of Sheila O’Malley’s Iranian Film Blogathon, 21st-27th February)