NASRIN – Review by Loren King

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This urgent documentary offers an up-close look at Iranian human rights lawyer and activist Nasrin Sotoudeh who for nearly 20 years, at great personal risk, has fought for the rights of women, children, LGBTQ people and political prisoners condemned to death by the Iranian government. For anyone not familiar with this ordinary yet extraordinary figure, Nasrin will be an eye-opening and life-changing experience. The film will be available in virtual theaters across the United States and Canada on December 18.

Nasrin is directed by Jeff Kaufman and produced by Marcia S. Ross, whose last film was the engaging documentary Terrence McNally: Every Act of Life, about the prolific playwright. Since Kaufman was prohibited from entering Iran, a team of anonymous cinematographers undertook the risk of filming Nasrin at home, at work in her law office, talking with clients and protesting in the streets. The film follows her arrest in June 2018 for representing women who protested Iran’s mandatory hijab law and her sentencing to 38 years in prison, plus 148 lashes.

The film provides historical context with compelling footage chronicling the 1979 takeover by religious fundamentalists and the creation of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Women who formerly enjoyed status and freedom in the country were suddenly denied basic freedoms including the ability to divorce and were forced to wear the hijab when in public. This background gives crucial context to the courageous feminist activists in Iran who dared to remove their head scarves in order to demonstrate that this requirement is a symbol of government control.

Besides enlightening interviews with Nasrin; her dedicated activist husband Reza Khandan; journalist Ann Curry; exiled women’s rights activist Mansoureh Shojaee; and others, the film offers footage of renowned filmmaker Jafar Panahi who is under house arrest in Iran and prohibited from working. Panahi secretly made the acclaimed 2015 film “Taxi,” in which he drives around Tehran and engages with various passengers. One of them was Nasrin, who climbed into Panahi’s taxi carrying a bouquet of roses. The sequence is even more heart-wrenching to watch now, as these two powerful, fearless voices refused to be silenced.

Nasrin has gained in urgency ever since its release in film festivals over the fall. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights called for Nasrin’s release from prison on health-related grounds (she had been weakened by a hunger strike and then contracted Covid-19 in prison). Then, just this month, Nasrin’s temporary medical leave was abruptly cancelled a day after she had been promised at least a two-week extension to continue her recovery from Covid and to receive treatment for her heart condition. She is now back in the notoriously brutal and unsanitary Qarchak Prison, situated in the desert outside of Tehran, which has been called “the worst place for women in Iran.” Yet, in a compelling coda, Nasrin continues to call for the release of prisoners facing the death penalty and has sent messages to several international forums. Nasrin is a moving portrait of an unforgettable fighter and a vital film that should be seen by audiences around the globe.

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Loren King

Loren King

Loren King's features and film reviews appear regularly in the Boston Globe, Boston Spirit magazine and the Provincetown Banner. She writes Scene Here, a localfilm column, in the Boston Sunday Globe. A member of the Boston Society of Film Critics since 2002, she served as its president for five years.