Domestic abuse is always a difficult topic to examine. Even more difficult is exploring domestic abuse in patriarchal cultures where hierarchical structures of the sexes have survived countless generations. It Turns Blue is a short film set in Iran that tackles such an issue. By shining a light on this uneasy subject matter, writer-director Shadi Karamroudi and team unequivocally condemn this all too common occurrence. The methodology in which they go about this makes it all the more powerful.
It Turns Blue opens with a father Morteza (Mansour Masiri) painting a room in his household, trying and failing to get his 3 year old daughter Raha (Hana Dezhagah) involved. When Raha drops Morteza’s phone in a tub of paint, we get a dramatic cut to black before being introduced to the protagonist, Pari (Leili Rashidi). She is Morteza’s sister and she walks in to find out that Morteza severely beat Raha after the incident with the phone. Knowing how tenuous Morteza’s relationship with his wife is, Pari assists her brother in covering his tracks and ensuring that Raha won’t tell her mother what Morteza did to her.
It’s rare to see media confronting patriarchy in Middle Eastern culture and society, with titles such as Tima Shomali’s AlRawabi School For Girls being among the very few to come to mind. If this short were set in any other environment, be it Western or otherwise, it would still be heart-wrenching as an example of how children suffer under bad parentage, but that it is set in a region like Iran is precisely what gives it so much weight. It Turns Blue is especially fascinating not only in the ways it decries abuse against women of all ages, including girls as young as Raha who, despite being a literal child, isn’t free from the torment of a man, but in how it demonstrates where women themselves can be complicit in the reinforcement of patriarchy.
Karamroudi and team make a distinctive choice to film much of the short from a distance, almost as if the camera is a person glancing in at what is happening. It’s a deliberate level of disconnect that enhances the horror of what’s happening. Not only is Raha’s treatment at the hands of her father shocking, but the lengths that Pari goes to in order to cover it up, going so far as to manipulate her niece’s memory through games and fake smiles, reveals a lot about the societal norms of this family. The recurring use of the colour blue in both visual appearance and dialectal reference is a particularly great choice that highlights the ways in which memory and reality can become separated and influenced by outside factors, such as an aunt trying to convince you that a horrible experience wasn’t as bad as you remember it.
There is a lot of nuanced detail within the writing and performances that makes this short such a gut punch. Rashidi turns in an especially strong performance as all of her fake joviality with her niece is also twinged with a level of regret. It is very subtle, but in the moments of silence that occur between scenes of manipulation and panic, there is a disquiet within Pari’s facial expressions, as if she knows what she’s doing is wrong but she goes along with it anyway. In a patriarchal society, Pari has as much of a voice as her niece and so what else can she really do? It is these things that It Turns Blue captures so terrifyingly well, with an astonishing final scene consisting of one visual choice and no dialogue that sums up the hurt and shame that can come with an act such as this with such horrific authenticity.
It Turns Blue is a harrowing film that vocally calls out the very subject matter it depicts. Brilliantly written, powerfully acted and emotionally layered in its filmmaking, it makes full use of its 15 minute runtime to deliver a thematically rich story that refuses to conform to the sociopolitical structure of which its characters live under. If this is what Karamroudi can do with a 15 minute short film then it signifies a prosperous future ahead of her.
Director: Shadi Karamroudi
Writer: Shadi Karamroudi
Stars: Leili Rashidi, Mansour Masiri, Hana Dezhagah
Runtime: 15 minutes