2021, Movies

Zalava (2021, Arsalan Amiri)

This is a psychological horror drama set in an absolutely gorgeous part of Iranian Kurdistan pre Iranian Revolution. There’s a bit of a Wicker Man vibe to it, though it is a little more grounded in reality (and a hell of a lot prettier).


From the first shot, I was smitten with the look and style. Some directors just have an inherent sense on how to film, and this guy has it. It’s his feature debut but you couldn’t tell from the shots or editing. (The script is another story, pardon the pun.) The most positive thing I can say about this film is that it’s a pleasure to look at. Sure, some of it has to do with the incredible scenery – kind of somewhere between Scotland and Nepal – but this guy clearly knows what he’s doing in terms of framing and light and so forth. I look forward to future films.

I’m really torn about the plot. I cannot imagine being scared of a jar. I am grateful that I was born into a society in which getting scared by a jar does not seem possible. But the fact that I was born into said society makes it harder for me to believe the film. It’s entirely possible that this story is not far from reality but it felt a little false to me, a little contrived. I have never been to Iran or Kurdistan (the closest I have been is Ankara) and I have never lived in a place where a majority of people believe in demons. I know that this has happened in the past, and I know that there are still places out there where a majority of people believe in similar things. But as a secular westerner, it was a little hard to get my head around.

Jenn made a good point about this though: how far off from Q and pizzagate is this demon thing? Is it really that far off? If a man is willing to storm a pizza restaurant because he thinks there’s a child sex dungeon in the basement, is it really so hard to believe a village would routinely shoot villagers in the leg to kill demons? If you think about it in that light…

A main quibble is with some of the dialogue. I suspect it was a partially a subtitle translation issue, but some of dialogue, particularly between the romantic leads, felt stilted and stagey. The director has multiple scripts to his credit but it was the script, not the direction, that felt like the work of a first-timer.

I also had issues with the score, particularly early on. Filmmakers should trust their audiences to know what is happening on screen – music doesn’t need to force you to know. The score was pretty heavy-handed in the early going, and generally was not great.

But I’m still thinking about the movie. And it’s gorgeous.


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