Iranian footballer Amir Nasr-Azadani was sentenced on 9th January to 26 years in prison for supporting his country’s protests against the repression of the ayatollah regime against the restrictions of women’s rights. He could have been sentenced to death but, finally, an alleged assault against the forces of order has been used as the cause of the sentence. The film ‘Holy Spider’ is released in the same week.
Something that could pass as a coincidence has an unusual cultural consistency, practically unprecedented due to its proximity in time, since what the film tells has an inescapable rhyme with the moment Iran is currently going through. The country has been mired in protests since September, unleashed after the death of Mahsa Amini, a 23-year-old girl, at the hands of the so-called “morality police”, which has led to a women-led movementwhich so far has resulted in executions, deaths of hundreds of people and thousands of injuries.
A critical moment in which much of society is reacting, a reaction that the film ‘Holy Spider’ depicts as a deep conflict within the country’s society, in which the punishment of women for religious reasons is not frowned upon by a large part of the population. It is significant how Ali Abassi places us in the time frame of history with a news shot that shows us the fall of the twin towers in New York, an event that is over 20 years old, but which resonates in our memory with the newly released modernity of the 21st century.
Sordid Chronicle of Fundamentalism
A small visual guide to locate us in the months between 2000 and 2001, when sixteen sex workers, many of them drug addicts, fell victim to a serial killer in the holy city of Mashhad, in northeastern Iran. The film never seeks to avoid the identity of the person responsible, on the contrary, it shows us the day-to-day life of this construction worker obsessed with clearing the streets of the city of “morally corrupt” women. They called him the spider because he would lure the prostitutes to her own house, where he would strangle them, wrap up their bodies, and throw them out of town.
Up to that point, the film recounts his crimes like a typical thriller film, more sordid and difficult than usual, but when he resolves his arrest, a work that is less easy to gauge begins, covering his trial, in which many supported his actions. exposing a problem that goes beyond the black chronicle. The director Ali Abbasi seems to make a response to the problematic ‘Killer Spider’ (2020), another film about the assassin, taking the fictional angle of a journalist, Rahimi (Zar Amir Ebrahimi), who travels from Tehran to Mashhad to cover the case. .
touching taboo subjects in Iranian cinema, such as nudity, sex, drug use, and prostitution‘Holy Spider’ escapes the censorship framework thanks to its international production, taking many real points from the investigation, but without abandoning the story of Saeed (Mehdi Bajestani), exposing him from the beginning as a family man, a dedicated father and faithful husband, but also as a ruthless man, picking up women on his motorcycle and strangling them in his house while his wife is away.
Part thriller, part journalistic document
His actions are never excused, but he makes it clear how he can not only easily lead this double life, but also becomes believable how his neighbors and friends supported him, even with crowds demanding his freedom. Is in that last third of the movie when it really gets really interestingaddressing the political, religious and social angles and their cross-relationship, with the leaders of each faction represented and leaving a chilling coda in its last scenes, where the contagious power of systemic misogyny is shown in families and religious nuclei.
‘Holy Spider’ is a noir look into the darker corners of Mashhad with an excellent performance from Ebrahimi. The actress herself, who fled Iran after the disclosure of an intimate video without her consent, before a trial that sentenced her to 10 years in prison and 99 lashes with a leather strap, has resumed her career here, doing a mix of fight and nervousness because of the danger that always surrounds his character. ‘Holy Spider’ shows a naked violence, with some explicit sex scenes and others that are indelible in their stark sadnesslike the one on the carpet.
After the fantastic ‘Border’, Abbasi composes a resounding true crime piece with two very different parts, one with scenes of tension edged with the nightmarish realism of Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Frenzy’ (1972) and another, much more reflective, which analyzes the systemic hatred of women of state fundamentalism, in a bitter reflection on how evil is transmitted between generations, an almost journalistic piece that oscillates between ‘The Boston Strangler’ (1968) and ‘In Cold Blood’ (1967). Essential, and sadly very current.