Stirring documentary takes viewers inside a Tehran detention facility for teenage girls

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Inside a detention facility on the outskirts of Tehran are a group of detainees with a laundry list of offenses logged against them: murder, robbery, drug smuggling.

But these aren’t hardened criminals doing life sentences. These are teenage girls, dealing with the harsh realities of the lives into which they’ve been thrown.

“Starless Dreams” is an arresting documentary about these young women, the difficulties of their surroundings, the despair that permeates their lives. They’ve been “raised in rot and filth,” as one of them puts it, and they’re arguably better off inside the facility’s walls than outside of them.

Writer and director Mehrdad Oskouei is able to deeply empathize with his subjects, and gets them to recount with startling honesty the brutal details of their upbringing. One is inside for killing her father, one goes by the name “651” because that’s how many grams of drugs she was caught with, another details how she was married at 14, pregnant by 15 and in jail for drugs by age 17. When Oskouei interviews her, she’s outdoors, building a snowman.

Inside this hopeless place — one describes it by saying “the pain drips from the walls” — the young women form a bond with each other greater than the ones they have with their families outside. And Oskouei’s mere presence brings life to the facility: at one point, one of the girls uses his boom mic to give an impromptu concert for the others.

Inside, at least there’s structure and a sense of belonging; when it’s time to leave, reality hits like a sledgehammer. “Starless Dreams” is a heartbreaking and humanistic look at broken lives and lost hope.

agraham@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2284

@grahamorama

‘Starless Dreams’

GRADE: A

Not rated

Running time: 76 minutes

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