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The young female inmates of a Tehran detention facility find more support in each other’s company and in the attention of a respectful filmmaker than they ever expect to find outside prison walls. Under no illusions about the nature of the world that has brought them to this place, their often fatalistic perspectives are delivered with vitality, defiance and surprising playfulness. Filmmaker Mehrdad Oskouei has exercised extraordinary patience in securing permission to film in the facility and winning the trust of his subjects. The outcome may be the most richly peopled and unshakeable documentary of the year.
“Mehrdad Oskouei goes inside an all-girl detention facility on the outskirts of Tehran and makes a movie that finds enough air to breathe within the stifling walls. 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.” — Robert Greene, Sight & Sound