It's time for meditation in the Rehabilitation Center and the Young Women Youth Institute in Iran: The instructor guides the inmates sitting with their hands raised, through a breathing exercise in which to breathe calmly and expel the negative thoughts at the same time. "Keep your eyes closed and gather all the difficult feelings you have and imagine them as a black ball," says the instructor.
The extent of trauma gathered in the black sphere is difficult to imagine for outsiders. Most of the young women here are serving a sentence for killing a male family member or for helping relatives with a murder. Some of them have their mother in prison, where the death penalty awaits.
They had no choice
Sunless Shadows is a low-key, observational documentary by the Iranian director Mehrdad Oskouei, where we get a growing sense that these young women cannot be condemned for their desperate actions. Rather, they are symptomatic of a society that has no choice. The real "shadow" here, in other words, may be the patriarchy.
Short video footage in which inmates are allowed to send a greeting to their loved ones – relatives or dead – acts as a window into their inner conflict-filled turmoil, where complex feelings of guilt and shame are mixed with remnants of a love that cannot be found. The comfort does not come so easily, though at all.
"What makes you get to a point where you kill your father," asks the director. He is the only man present, he is the one who talks to the girls. His empathy has given him their confidence, so they answer him even if he asks very direct questions.
"He was naughty. We didn't get along, ”says one of them, Negar, explaining why she killed her father. It is at such a moment that the devastating power of a culture of understatement and silence around domestic violence is clearly evident. A desperation that is too great to be described in words.
What lies in the word "bad", we think. To imagine what happened is in many ways worse than if it had been told.
But scary stories, even though they are detailed, are told. It forms a picture of patriarchs who act as they are in their full right to punish (by force) and control women, whom they consider to be slaves.
On the men's side are the guardians of the law and other state entities. A girl comes to the police despite her leg broken. Police believe she must have done something for her father to harm her like that.
One of the girls got the school books thrown in the garbage bin so she couldn't study.
One girl who worked to earn money to support the family felt that her father used up the money on prostitutes.
Father prevented from beating mother
A girl stabbed his father to prevent him from continuing to beat his mother, but failed to kill him. She was driven out into the desert and beaten to death with chains.
Another girl says she married as a 12-year-old to escape the "hell" at home, only to find that her husband was worse than her parents. Sexual abuse is only hinted at, never mentioned directly.
"A total lack of support, either from the community or the family," a girl briefly answers the question of why she is being murdered. The options for escaping intolerable situations are limited in a society that favors men's rights and where women can be married against their will. Where men can simply refuse divorce.
«There was no legal way å do it on» tells one forcibly married a young woman who enlisted her boyfriend to assist her in the murder of her husband.
The Qur'an may require murderers to be executed, but why can't the thieves get their hands cut? asks another, who does not understand the selective use of justice by the powerful men of society.
A place of safety
The desperation is obvious when one of the girls comments that she did not think about what would happen by that she killed the relative. She "just wanted him to disappear".
One scary thought is that these young women are among the few who have committed extreme acts to escape their destiny. What about the countless young women who still live like in prison out there?
Eventually, we see the rehabilitation center as a place of security, where the girls are safe and given a respite, more than as a rehabilitation center that prepares them for the outside world – a world where the balance of power is still in their disadvantage. Some of them raise their children at the center between English lessons and ceramics lessons, and there is every reason to be concerned about their development,
The friendship between the young women seems to be of great importance; they understand what the others have been through.
A woman who comes to visit has previously served seven years at the institution. She's released now, and says to the others "it's boring outside," a simple statement that still contains a lot of unspoken about society's lack of affiliation or understanding.
Translated by Iril Kolle
The movie is shown below Movies from South 2020.