In 1978, in a Kurdish village high in the mountains, Iran’s ghostly entry “Jalva” rationalized, scientific belief against superstition and sectarianism, a theme that now carries a lot of resonance. At the same time, it plays a clever sense of humor before entering the tragedy. The film brings a new spin to the genre convention, marking the debut of the confident, cine-signature feature of Helmer, a member of the Iranian Kurdish minority, and co-author Arsalan Amiri. But perhaps its greatest asset is the portrayal of tall, toned, and fascinated star Naveed Purfaraz as a nearby gendarmerie sergeant, whose efforts to legislate with Trigger-happy residents of Jalwa have unintended consequences. The FIPRESCI approval of Venice should increase the profile of this offbeat title.
Title cards and dialogues are used for screenings in the first half of the film, some details of which are never developed. Most accurately, we learn that Jalava was founded over a century ago by a group of gypsies traveling from east to west. Now, residents walk into a believable, breeding bunch, wrinkled skin, white hair spots and sleep.
According to the attractive government doctor Malihe (Hoda Zenolabedin), who is collecting blood samples in the area, the Jalavians are strangely proud of the high levels of adrenaline. Their anxious state comes from the fear of ghosts and other irrational superstitions. But it is their dangerous method with which they believe they have possession – a bullet or a knife in the leg – that leads to a confrontation with Sergeant Masood (Pourafraz).
When the beautiful daughter of the village chief is declared the occupant, the levelhead sergeant seizes all the guns in the village and tries to stop any bleeding, telling her father, “It is better to seize her than to distort her.” But this act inadvertently contributes to the tragedy. So, what is the sergeant’s plan to deactivate all rifles before returning them?
When the Jalvians scurry in fear of the extra invisible ghosts, the sergeant and the doctor suspiciously see Amardan (theater and film actor Pauria Rahimi Sam), a traveler, doing a show containing something invisible in a glass jar. Amiri and co-authors Ida Panhandeh and Tahmineh Bahram write a Nifty first showdown between Sergeant and Outsiders which turns into several clever one-skills with male pride and credibility.
The sergeant comes upstairs, orders the arrest and detention of Amardan, which provokes discontent among the locals. Back at the station, the camera work plays with the horror trope to create a threat from a seemingly empty glass jar, which is declared extremely dangerous by outsiders. Even the sergeant, whose hard past aroused hatred for his superstitions, began to have some doubts.
As Amardan escapes and the sergeant returns to Jalva at night with his colleague Yunus (well-acted for Baset Rezai’s comic effect), the scripts skillfully raise the stack. There is also an impressive doll of romance between the sergeant and the doctor.
But Immortal (the oppressed soul with his own hard past) now has an ax to crush with the sergeant. When the mad villagers started threatening the doctor, the fight between the cause and the madness reached its climax.
Although the film can be hailed as something new in Iranian cinema, the metaphorical content is more interesting. The monster could be a metaphor for Kovid-19 because the battle between science and superstition is still going on around the world.
While this is a relatively low-budget picture, the technology credits the credit. When the sergeant drives between his garrison headquarters and Jalavar, the camera’s rolling scene, the mountain roads resemble Kiarostami film. Yet DP Mohammad Rasooli also knows how to create a good jump scare. Meanwhile, excitement continues across Imad Khodabax’s cutting and Ramin Kausar’s atmospheric score.
For the record, during its world premiere at the Fajr Film Festival in Iran, “Jalva” got Kudo as the best first feature, script and supporting actor for Rahimi Sam.