It’s sadly not surprising that an angry film about pedophilia, and a closed society’s horrifically inept efforts to confront it, still needed to be made in Iran. Nor should we be complacent about conditions closer to home, though you’d have to dig deep to find a case as extreme as the one depicted in “Hush! Girls Don’t Scream,” in which the victim is not merely blamed for the crime, but prosecuted to boot. Winner of the audience award at this year’s Fajr Film Festival, as well as top prize at the recent London Iranian Film Festival, the sobering pic opened Friday on a single L.A.-area screen.
“Hush!” begins like a noir crime thriller, perhaps a Cornell Woolrich-style tale of revenge, a la “The Bride Wore Black.” The stunned-looking bride in this case, Shirin Naeimi (Tannaz Tabatabayi), appears before her husband dressed in blinding white — except for the garish splatter of fresh blood across her chest. The film clears up the question of motivation almost immediately, when Shirin confesses to killing a man who abused her repeatedly as a child and had been lurking around the fringes of her life ever since.
Writer-director Pouran Derakhshandeh (“Endless Dreams,” “A Candle in the Wind”) has made a film as tight as clenched fist. Shot almost entirely in grays, blacks and browns, it focuses sternly on building its case against the social constraints and inequities in the Iranian legal system that make justice in a case like this almost impossible to attain. The film is so closely argued it could be presented in a court of law, carefully documenting occasions throughout Shirin’s childhood when parents and school officials failed to hear what the clearly distraught little girl was trying to tell them. (She is given medication rather than attention or protection. And you thought this was common practice only in America.)
The most depressing obstacle here is a lethal confluence of the social and the legal. Shirin reveals that she committed her crime to prevent another little girl from being abused. This could be a key to her defense, a claim that the killing was justified. But the law doesn’t allow this crime to be so much as mentioned unless the other girl’s parents agree to file a complaint. This second victim’s father angrily refuses to do, out of concern for his family’s “honor,” because of what people in the bazaar might whisper behind his back.
The only area in which the film loosens its tightly controlled argumentation to become as passionately anguished as the subject seems to merit is in the work of Tabatabayi, and of the astonishing child actress who plays Shirin as an 8-year-old, terrorized by her pedophile stalker. Their pain feels so raw that it can be hard to watch. But of course, we have to.