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Starless Dreams
Mehrdad Oskouei Irán, 2016
It’s as bruising and wrenching to watch as you might expect of a doc portrait of a juvenile detention center for Iranian girls. It’s also scrupulously crafted in a way that rejects bathos, tough-minded and fairly revelatory, well worth the emotional effort demanded.
January 09, 2018
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Oskouei’s eye for the telling detail recalls Albert Maysles, and he shares Maysles’ invisible camera style. It’s fascinating enough when the girls are aware of the camera—their faces are so expressive—but when their awareness drops away, the level of intimacy is extraordinary. Oskouei is their soft-spoken, offscreen confessor, listening to their heartbreaking stories.
February 17, 2017
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A prison documentary is didactic by definition, but Oskouei avoids sententiousness by intercutting scenes of confession with scenes of singing; he shoots the girls playing in the snow in the courtyard, drawing in their notebooks, interviewing one another, and joking about the government (fairly cautious jokes).
January 31, 2017
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It suggests that the center’s grounds, where the girls play in the snow or work in a greenhouse, are kinder than the world outside, and that release is a fraught prospect. So if “Starless Dreams” inspires conflicted feelings in viewers, it may be by design. It’s hard not to want to flee, and it’s hard to look away.
January 19, 2017
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By seeking details and biographical information over speculative assessments from the girls of how an event made them feel, Oskouei takes an ethical stance toward the potential to extract a response from his subject, making the documentary play less like an exposé on the psychology of these girls than a window into the tangible facets of their allegedly criminal acts.
January 17, 2017
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The girls’ stories are uniformly heartbreaking, but Starless Dreams is no parade of misery. Like much of the best nonfiction cinema this year, Oskouei knows how to open up routes toward true empathy and understanding by including his own processes and disappointments. It’s a film that thinks and feels and asks us to do the same.
January 13, 2017
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Oskouei’s documentary reveals loving and bright women, and the film exposes the social corruption that makes these women feel safer in prison than in society. The beauty of Starless Dreams lies in this discourse and how giving a voice to the voiceless helps give them power. It demonstrates that politics doesn’t have to be all bluster and no substance in order to make a sincere and real impact.
November 16, 2016
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The film cannot offer any kind of closure to what are dire narratives. We will never know if the girls’ often expressed desire to live what they imagine is a normal life is realized by any of them. But Starless Dreams would be more compelling if Oskouei were not so liberal in his use of metaphoric cutaways. We don’t need to see a bird huddled in a frozen tree to empathize with the fragility of these teenagers.
June 10, 2016
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One of the must-watch films at the festival this time is Mehrdad Oskouei’s Starless Dreams, which is a moving portrait of the inmates of a correction home for girls in Tehran.
June 09, 2016
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The film captures a rare, sorrowful, infinitely complex milieu — that of a juvenile rehabilitation center for “delinquent” girls. Mehrdad Oskouei spent years attempting to gain access to the facility, and the stories, dynamics, and personalities he finds within it are radiant with sadness and hope.
June 07, 2016
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The distinction between filmmaker and his subjects is acknowledged, yet in a sincere and playful manner that actually brings them closer to each other, and us to them. With all illusions of directorial omnipotence out of the way, we can all participate more honestly and fully.
March 15, 2016
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Much like Edet Belzberg’s magnificent Children Underground from 2000, the true masterstroke here is in giving the purest platform to otherwise voiceless souls of such boundless strength and character.
March 09, 2016
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The real emotional dynamite comes in Oskouei’s individual interviews with the young inmates, who reveal unfathomable depths of shame and self-loathing. The director doesn’t pretend to any kind of objectivity or remove: We hear his patient voice and see his interactions with the kids; he even buys things for them on occasion. By not hiding his empathy and concern, Oskouei subtly draws attention to the inherent imbalance of the viewer-subject exchange.
March 09, 2016
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Roger Ebert once called the movies “a machine that generates empathy,” and “Starless Dreams,” a heartbreaking documentary by Mehrdad Oskouei, is just such a machine. With the conceptual rigor and emotional directness associated with the best of Iranian cinema, Oskouei simply listens to the stories of those who have never been listened to before. Their shattering testimony, elegantly harmonized in a chorus of stolen childhood, has universal appeal…
March 08, 2016
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Oskouei spent seven years getting permission to make this film, and manages to touch the humanity and innocence in these girls. His film is dark and sad, and at the same time optimistic and hopeful. Starless Dreams is one of the best Iranian social documentaries of the past years, narrated like a fiction film and leaving judgment to the audience.
February 11, 2016
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