Content Note: domestic violence, abuse
Two prisons in Iran. One is a juvenile detention center for girls who murdered their husbands, fathers, or other male family members. The other houses some of their mothers and sometimes sisters who were a part or instigators of the murders.
Sunless Shadows looks at incarcerated girls and women in Iran, wondering about a society that leaves murder as the only option out of abuse and how families are tangled up in love despite and because of everything.
Sunless Shadows accomplishes quite a few things. One, it shows us simply the daily prison life of the girls that is very much unlike the prison life we know from (mostly USAmerican) TV. Communal, it seems tailored to giving these girls the comfort of each other. It’s almost as if even the authorities know that these girls probably don’t really deserve a punishment. A community made up only of women is more like a respite from patriarchy for them. (It is thus maybe no surprise that a former inmate comes back to visit and seems more at home there than on the outside.)
Because that’s the second thing the film makes absolutely clear: these girls and their mother saw no other way out of their marriages, out from under the thumbs of the men in their families. In fact, they didn’t only not see it, there was no other way out for them. It was either enduring decades more of abuse for them and their children or murder. That’s not much of a decision at all.
And the third thing, Sunless Shadows does is gives the girls an opportunity to record a message to a family member where they can tell them what they always wanted to say. This leads to the girls sending messages of love to their mothers with and for whom they committed their crimes, but also to their fathers who they killed. Because despite everything, they are still their fathers and should have protected and loved them. And reconciling their love for their fathers with the abuse they suffered at the hands of them and finally the murder of them – that is difficult to say the least.
These three parts combine in a wonderful film that is insightful and empathetic and very feminist. An absolute thing of beauty.